Remember the Fallen - Establish Your Own EMS Honor Guard
An EMS honor guard can appropriately represent your EMS service in honoring deceased members, not only during EMS Week but throughout the year. Here are some tips on how to start an Honor Guard in your area.
Identify Volunteers Who Are Dedicated to the Project
"There's a lot of work involved, and you need people who really want to do this," said Jack Glass, founder of the City of Pittsburgh Bureau of Emergency Medical Services Honor Guard. "You have to be ready on a moment's notice because things happen without a schedule."
Craig Anderson, commander of the Minnesota EMS Honor Guard, agreed. "You need people who are truly dedicated to the cause or it won't work," he said. "Our people do this because they want to." Make sure that your volunteers are supported by your administration, Glass added.
Decide the Type of Detail You Will Provide
The City of Pittsburgh EMS Honor Guard was established with only four people in February 1995. An honor guard was needed to honor three city firefighters who had lost their lives in a structure fire on Valentine's Day. Today, the Pittsburgh Honor Guard has grown to 18 people who provide services at different details in the city, including parades, banquets, dedications, memorial services, funerals, conferences and inaugurations.
The Minnesota EMS Honor Guard only performs detail at funerals, but it covers the entire state and offers services to anyone involved in prehospital care. "Anyone who is killed in the line of duty gets the honor guard, provided that is what the family wants, because we are here to serve the family," Anderson said. "If the family desires, we'll also do the entire funeral from planning to execution." They also assist the family in seeking death benefits.
During EMS Week, both organizations travel to the National EMS Memorial Service, held in Roanoke, Virginia.
Design and Order Uniforms
Whatever services you decide to provide, Anderson recommended that you should design your own uniform if you are doing detail for other EMS services. "We needed a uniform to set us apart from any particular company or service and still maintain a level of professionalism among the EMS community," he said, explaining that the Minnesota Honor Guard wanted to exist separately from any particular EMS organization. "We wanted our own identity without political influence from any other service."
Set Up and Adhere to a Regular Practice Schedule
To be a member of an honor guard requires practice. Some honor guards conduct camps or regular training to focus on movements such as positions of attention, positions of rest, parade rest, at ease, fall out, facing movements and others. Casket movement also must be learned.
Don't Forget Organizational Housekeeping Tasks
Since an honor guard is an organization, you also need to create some semblance of a constitution with bylaws, policies and procedures, but you don't have to go it alone. "We worked closely with the Minnesota Fallen Firefighters Association, which has an honor guard," Anderson said. "They gave us their bylaws, policies and procedures and said to use it word-for-word, just change firefighter to EMS. We didn't have to reinvent the wheel."
Anderson said that he will share his experiences and paperwork with any EMS personnel who want to create an honor guard. "Anyone who wants to start an honor guard should contact us," he said. "Just cross out our name on the documents and put yours on it. We'll offer this to anyone who wants it." Contact the Minnesota Ambulance Association at (320) 654-1767 or (800) 852-2776. The City of Pittsburgh bureau of Emergency Medical Services honor Guard can be reached at (412) 462-1924.