Caring during COVID-19: The Essential work of being an EMT

A young African American man sits in the driver's seat in an ambulance and smiles.
Allen Hernandez grew up in West Oakland and is now an EMT serving the Sacramento areal.

Oakland Voices asked our correspondents to chat with those affected by COVID-19, including essential workers. 

For essential worker Allen Hernandez, 36, growing up in West Oakland presented a stable environment but offered little diversity in outdoor activities. Children of color either went to the local park and picked up a basketball game or they simply hung out. Hernandez’s interests were outside the norm; most specifically, his deep love of hockey. 

As an EMT for about 10 years, Hernandez now lives in the Sacramento area. The ambulance company he works for serves the Richmond, CA area. I asked Hernandez what directed him into a lifesaving career and community service work since I thought growing up in West Oakland and since hockey is not the stereotypical sport of West Oakland.

“I became in love with the game after skating at the old Berkley Iceland and I just thought it was cool. It was a different experience. The first time I saw people playing hockey I thought to myself, ‘That’s what I want to do’.” 

Hernandez later got his idea of becoming an EMT worker as a possible career choice. He took classes at local colleges in Oakland. “This all started as a career thought. All of a sudden, it popped in my head to get a job working on an ambulance or being a firefighter. I took a CPR and first aid course at Laney and really thought ‘ok’. I then took an Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT) course at Merritt and then started looking for jobs. I went to work for a BLS (Basic Life Support) company before my present career position. BLS Companies go to hospitals [as transport service]. It is something that I realized I always knew I could do. This is something I have always want to be, that person who assisted others.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown everyone for a loop, and EMT workers have had to take more precautions. “We now wear our masks all the time where before, it was only if a patient or incident involved a known illness.” For him, he is not worried about COVID-19 for himself. “Based on research, we feel confident we would recover especially following the regular precautions, washing hands, wearing masks, and not being in enclosed areas with people for too long. If there is any fear, it is the fear of passing it on to other members of the family. So, I am extra careful.”

Even though they are frontline workers putting their health at risk, the median annual wage for EMTs and paramedics was $35,400 in May 2019. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $23,490, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $59,860.

I asked Hernandez what his thoughts and views are for tomorrow and if he saw an end to this pandemic. He thoughtfully replied “I think it will change for everybody – people will be more cautious and practice more social distancing.”

As for his career choice, this deep-voiced, soft-mannered married father of three said his family is supportive and proud of him. “Everyone was encouraging including my parents, my spouse, and my children. They are very proud of it, especially my 8-year-old son who always inquires about the job.”

Hernandez shares some advice to anyone wanting to consider a life of service in a world that is so unpredictable. “I would suggest they learn about the career field as much as possible and talk to people about their experience. Know that schooling is challenging. It’s not easy. The biggest thing: ask yourself, ‘are you emotionally capable of doing the job?'”

Hernandez said that becoming an EMT has opened his eyes to an interest in medicine and health. He has no regrets now but said, “I would have followed a different path knowing how much I love medicine. I would have gone to school to be a nurse or doctor. It’s a little more difficult now, but I know it’s not too late. But for now, being able to work with the public, every day is different.”

Though for his career, he is out serving the public, he said family is most important and spending quality time is key. “I try to make sure when I am at home, I am present, and not running around caught up in chores. Emotionally and not just physically. We try to cook together. Go to the park. Be a family.”

Author Profile

Jo Ann Bell works as an office manager and administrative support person in a private independent high school in Berkeley, California. She is an avid reader, loves people and travel and especially the written word. She is a 2010 graduate of Oakland Voices and after several years away has returned to join the Oakland Voices Alumni group.

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