One Small Voice
by Laura McGaffey
Articles originally published in "The Voice in the Desert"
Sunsites-Pearce, Arizona

Emergency Medical Services
Provided by the Sunsites-Pearce Fire District

February 2008

EMT or Paramedic, Same Thing or Different?

For five years in the early 1970’s the TV show “Emergency” followed the work of fictional paramedics Johnny Gage and Roy DeSoto as they responded from their Los Angeles fire station to render assistance to citizens suffering from all manner of life-threatening situations. The show was very popular as well as educational and the term “paramedic” became familiar to the public.

An unintended result of the show was that now the public uses the word “paramedic” when referring to virtually anyone who is not a doctor or nurse but who is trained and certified to render emergency medical assistance outside a hospital. However, not all emergency medical professionals are, strictly speaking, paramedics. The title paramedic is reserved for emergency medical professionals with a specific level of training and with authority to render an advanced level of medical aid.

All emergency medical personnel are Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs). In Arizona, a “paramedic” is an EMT-P (Emergency Medical Technician-Paramedic) and an “EMT” is an EMT-B (basic). The EMT is trained and authorized to render Basic Life Support (BLS) while the paramedic is trained and authorized to render Advanced Life Support (ALS).

The Sunsites-Pearce Fire District employs two full-time paramedics, four full-time EMTs, and two part-time EMTs.


To become an EMT requires approximately a semester of training and costs between $500.00 and $1,500.00 for tuition, books and tools, uniforms, etc. Becoming a Paramedic can cost more than $12,000.00 and it takes about two years of schooling. For recertification, EMTs and Paramedics are required to take recertification courses. They are also encouraged to take continuing education (CE) courses. The department pays for any courses required for recertification but continuing education courses are paid for by the EMT or paramedic. In both cases the department does not pay the EMT or paramedic to attend the courses.

All EMS personnel employed by the Sunsites-Pearce Fire District are required to go to wildland fire fighting school to earn their “red card” from the Arizona State Land Department. They are employed as EMT/Firefighter or Paramedic/Firefighter. This allows them to work 24 hour shifts as Firefighters providing emergency medical services.

State Oversight

The Arizona Department of Health Services oversees and regulates all ambulance services in the state, whether they are private companies or incorporated into the operations of a fire district. SAEMS (Southeast Arizona Emergency Medical Services Council) is responsible to the ADHS and regulates our ambulance services. All hospitals functioning as base hospitals in southern Arizona report to SAEMS. Tucson Medical Center is our ambulance service’s base hospital. TMC establishes the protocols by which our EMS must function.


Our EMS personnel work 24 hour shifts, from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. There are three teams – A, B and C – each working two days a week between Sunday and Friday. In addition, each team works every third Saturday.

On average the Sunsites-Pearce Fire District receives one EMS call per day.

Per ADHS, our ambulance must respond to a call for assistance within three minutes during waking hours and five minutes during sleeptime. This refers to getting out the door, not to arriving on scene. I’ve been listening to the radio for four months and have noticed that once the county 911 dispatchers have contacted the EMS staff at the station, it has generally taken less than five minutes for them to get to someone in Sunsites who has called for help.

If we had to rely on emergency medical assistance coming from Willcox or Elfrida, the wait for an ambulance would be a minimum of 30 minutes.


I recently spoke with EMS Supervisor, Paramedic Brenda French and her shift partner, Chris Waters, in preparation for this article. They updated me on the specifics of working in Emergency Medicine in Arizona. They and all the other EMTs and paramedics make up a smoothly running EMS service and the community is lucky to have such highly professional individuals taking care of them during medical emergencies.