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What is an EMT?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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An emergency medical technician (EMT) is a trained professional who responds to emergency medical situations, such as car accidents, fires, or injuries occurring in homes or workplaces. Many assume that all people in this profession are paramedics, but this is not the case. They are classified in levels, depending upon their degree of training. Only EMT 4s are considered paramedics.

EMT 1s are often the first technicians to arrive at the site of an accident. They have been trained in basic CPR and first aid. Virtually all firefighters and police officers have at least level 1 training. Since firefighters are generally the first to arrive at the scene of an accident, such training is necessary to assess the situation and call for further help.

In some cases, people with serious illnesses who are prone to frequent emergency hospitalizations may make arrangements with their fire departments to request ambulance service at the time of any emergency. This is generally only allowable in small towns, and depends largely on the cooperation of local firefighters. This request is made because an EMT 1 may not be able to adequately address the needs of someone with a medical emergency. Time can be vital, and an EMT with further training may be needed immediately.

When an ambulance arrives, it is generally staffed with at least one person with EMT 4 training. The other ambulance driver may be classified as level 2 or 3. Sometimes, ambulances are staffed with two paramedics, depending upon availability and the nature of the emergency.

EMT 2 or 3 training is considered intermediate. These technicians can use defibrillators to help shock a heart back into normal sinus rhythm. They can insert catheters to give a patient intravenous fluid. They also perform CPR and assess victims for any trauma to the body. EMT 2 or 3 technicians can place patients with suspected head or neck trauma on a backboard and transport them. Their assessment of patients is valuable when the patients are transferred to hospitals.

Professionals with level 4 classification are paramedics. In addition to being able to provide the above services, paramedics can perform some fairly complex medical procedures in the field. They are allowed to give medications to allay pain, or to assist someone with cardiac difficulties. They can also perform emergency tracheotomies or intubations to help restore normal breathing. The information from an EMT 4's assessment helps the hospital prepare for treatment of anyone with severe injuries or illness.

All EMTs require training. Most emergency workers in any field hold EMT 1 status, and training may be included in their education in other fields. People with classifications of 2, 3, and 4 usually go to school and receive at least an Associate’s Degree in Applied Science. Some paramedics further study to receive a Bachelor’s Degree.

EMTs are not rewarded monetarily for their jobs, which in fairness should offer hazard pay. The top salaries for most EMTs are relatively low. Often, firefighters and police officers are more appropriately compensated. An EMT may be required to respond to emergencies that carry great risks, such as transporting people with serious and contagious illnesses, or picking up injured people in dangerous neighborhoods.

When possible, firefighters and police officers try to remove elements of danger before the EMT arrives. This is not always possible, though, and hence the work involves risk to health and livelihood on a regular basis.

TheHealthBoard is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a TheHealthBoard contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By medicchristy — On Aug 02, 2010

@shenifadc: To obtain a degree in EMS, you would normally follow the general core curriculum for the college of your choice. On top of EMS courses, other courses necessary would be history, college math, English, and other general education courses.

Obtaining a degree in EMS does not generally grant an increase in pay unless you decide to be an instructor.

By shenifadc — On May 21, 2009

What types of classes would you take if you want to get a degree in Applied Science?

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a TheHealthBoard contributor, Tricia...
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