Archives for April 2012

Product Review: Shoes for Crews Maverick

About a month ago I was solicited over email by a marketing agent working on behalf of Shoes for Crews, a designer and vendor of its own line of work shoes and boots. They offered me a free pair of their boots — my choice — in exchange for a review on this site.

I was, at the time, extremely reluctant and uncertain about this. I have very little to offer as a blogger and “authority,” and the small service I do provide is largely predicated upon my credibility; in other words, I may not know much, but I try to be as honest, impartial, and accurate with the small amount of information that I do provide. Taking free swag in exchange for kind words seems like a slippery slope at best. It’s more important to me to be able to, in the future, recommend a specific product because it’s worked well for me — without anybody wondering if I’m getting a kick-back for it — than to benefit from occasional free goodies.

I eventually agreed under the clear and explicit terms that I would write exactly what I thought, with no prevarication or white-washing. If I liked the boots, I’d say that; if I had reservations, I’d share them; and if I thought they had no role in EMS, then I’d say that too, and in that case their marketing effort would be counter-productive. They agreed to this, which I suppose was a calculated gamble.

So here’s the review. I doubt that this company will be sending me more boots, whether or not they appreciate this post, but in the future the same type of situation may arise, so I’m very eager to hear any opinions — positive or negative — on this practice. Does it leave a bad taste in your mouth, and make you less inclined to run your eye over our next volume on drug interactions or pulsus paradoxus? Or do you find this sort of thing useful?


The Company

Shoes for Crews is not a new company, although they’re new to me; they’ve been around for several decades now. Their claim to fame seems to be their slip-resistant soles, which use a patented tread-pattern and material to allow high traction in dangerous environments like wet floors or oil splatters. Their line runs from slip-ons to high-top firefighting boots, and the general theme is similar to Red Wings — basically footwear for working folks who are on their feet all day and need both comfort and protection.

Lately they seem to have been making a marketing blitz, possibly due to enlisting the help of the service that contacted me, and I’ve been seeing their ads everywhere. I even received a memo from HR at my job offering a company discount for their products. The social media angle has been aggressive (via Facebook, Twitter, and obviously blogs like this), and on some level I have to admire it. After all, it’s clearly working.

In my experience, boots for EMS fall into about three ranges. There’s the low-end range, ballpark of $40 or so, which is mainly low-cut shoes you find at Walmart or other generic retailers, intended for waiters and entry-level jobs. They can look good and seem somewhat serviceable for brief periods, but invariably they fall apart, sometimes catastrophically, after a few months. After that, there’s the mid-range, around $100, where the bulk of workhorse EMS and police boots fall — Bates, 5.11, Rocky, etc. These are good boots that wear well and last, perhaps, from 1–4 years depending on care and your tolerance for their final appearance. (All of my own boots have been this type.) Finally, there’s the high-end lines — Haix, Danner, and others — usually in the $200 range. These should last approximately forever, are built from high-end materials with scrupulous manufacturing, and ideally add an extra level of comfort.

Shoes for Crews seems to sit on the low end of the mid-range category. Many of their boots are in the $70–$80 territory, which is a pretty affordable boot if you’ll wear it for a solid few years.


The Boots

As I flipped through their collection, my first impression was that there weren’t too many styles that seemed suited for EMS. Typically our uniforms require black footwear that will take a polish, and I like a side-zip for easy ins and outs.

The models that seemed most appropriate included the Ranger; the Yukon; the Expedition; the Empire; and the Legionnaire. (None, sadly, included a zipper. Maybe next year.) Eventually, I settled on the Maverick, a recent release.

Here they are new out of the box:

First impression: well-built, good looking all-leather boots. They are relatively low-cut, but they are clearly boots and not shoes; here’s a comparison next to my 5.11 ATACs.

They do have a white-threaded stitching, adding a bit of accent against the black; however, it is barely noticeable and I doubt would run afoul of anybody’s uniform policies. After a few polishes it will probably fade completely.

The lacing system is a typical hiking-boot style, with hooks instead of D-rings for the top two pairs. This is supposed to make it easier to get your foot in and out, but to me it just adds to the lacing process and makes donning and removing them a bit of a chore. I also noticed a couple of the hooks get bent outward during regular use; they bent back easily, but it may be a common issue. Although I didn’t try it, I wonder if you could use a pair of pliers to fold them tightly in around the lace, converting them into semi-permanent lace-retaining tubes instead of open hooks.

Here’s the slip-resistant soles after some wear:

Slip resistance, although undoubtedly positive, is not exactly something I lay awake at night worrying about. However, I admit that these soles felt good, with solid traction on all surfaces including soapy washfloors and the occasional grease patch. They seemed to do well on loose soil as well, although I didn’t do much off-roading in them. They are also, for any aspiring ninjas, very quiet.

The uppers are all leather, without any nylon or mixed surfaces. Although it takes longer to polish, I prefer this look to a two-tone or “patchy” style; one does wonder how well it breathes in the heat, but I had little trouble on some reasonably hot days. They felt decent in the cold as well (it’s been a rollercoaster month), so for moderately extreme temperature ranges I’d give them a thumbs up.

The product page makes the fairly strong claim of “waterproof.” Many boots say water resistant and some say waterproof, but within the low and middle price ranges this usually means some kind of external treatment or half-hearted membrane that lasts a year or two at the most. I saw no mention of a Gore-Tex or similar liner on mine, so that may be the case here as well. However, they do have a gusseted tongue, and on moderately rainy days, as well as a leisurely test session of soaking them in several inches of bathwater, I noticed not one drop of moisture penetration.

This is how they look after about a month of use (every shift at work plus many days off):

So they’re reasonably durable. The leather is actually somewhat soft, so I have some concern for how it’ll hold up in the long-term; you notice one small cut already on the left boot. I gave them one quick shine when I first received them, and that’s held up well. The particular style at the edges also seems to help prevent scuffing the toe. The included laces do seem pretty frail, already looking a little scruffly after a month, and I’ve read reviews that others have had similar experiences; laces are easily replaceable, of course.

These have a composite toe, which I found quite light compared to steel toes I’ve used in the past. Combined with the lower cut, they’re overall not heavy boots, although obviously heavier than a soft-toed variant. The good news is that the toe is very roomy and never felt confining, which is something I’ve always experienced with safety toes; the box is built quite high, which is actually noticeable from the outside, giving a bit of a square, blocky look.

How about comfort? These are actually quite comfortable boots. Partly it’s because of the low cut (which makes driving particularly easy), but mainly they just feel like boots designed for humans to wear, unlike many uniform boots which seem primarily intended as ornate buttcaps for bipedal robots. They are quite rigid, with a steel shank and more arch support than I’ve ever had in a boot, and the feel of the heel and overall “stance” against the ground is very stable and comfortable. I feel better lifting in these than in my current boots, extremely stable while stair-chairing, and I could almost certainly wear these to the gym to squat, press, and deadlift without any difficulty. The collar is heavily padded, and although it took a few days before it stopped feeling noticeably stiff against my ankle (the only real break-in), after that it’s been perfect. The insoles are replaceable, too, if you have your own orthotics.

My two biggest gripes, in the end, are these:

  • The low cut. Every pair of uniform paints I’ve ever received has been (at least after a wash) laughably short, barely reaching my instep while standing and “flooding” embarrassingly whenever I bend my leg. As a result, wearing a low-rise boot like this makes the gap extremely noticeable; my pants almost don’t reach my boots even while standing. With properly-fitted pants, it wouldn’t be as bad, but I still feel that a medium-rise boot is a more professional look.
  • No zipper. I tried to adjust to this, but particularly on overnight shifts, it’s a deal-breaker; having to lace and tie these every time I pull them on, and reverse the process to get them off (even just to rest my feet for a bit) is like switching from a cotton T-shirt to a corset. It’s enough to make me wonder if I could buy a center-zip panel like Haix makes and lace it into the front, but I doubt it would fit.

Final Thoughts

So with all of that said and done, what are my take-away impressions of these boots?

They are generally well-thought-out work boots, very appropriate for their primary market (for instance, warehouse personnel, contractors, or repairmen), and with an overall pretty good quality. They are obviously not specifically aimed at the EMS/fire/police market, but there are not too many gaps (targeted “EMS boots” are usually bizarrely overbuilt, anyway), and the main difference seems to be one of feel. My quibbles with them are enough that they won’t be replacing my existing boots, but I will wear them occasionally, and in fact they make decent-looking off-duty shoes (my girlfriend approves). Moreover, I know many field staff who don’t mind, or even prefer, low-cut and zipperless uniform boots, and for them I do recommend the product. The value is good, and if you can find some sort of discount (and they seem to be falling from trees), all the better.

I’d love to hear from anybody else who’s tried these, or better yet, one of the other Shoes for Crews models; I’d suspect that many of them are pretty similar in the overall feel, but there may be some important distinctions.

Best of all, SfC has provided me with a coupon code for one more free pair of any of their products to give away to one of you lucky folks. EMS Basics isn’t exactly The Price Is Right, and we don’t do a lot of contests, but here’s what I’d like to do: if you’re interested in a free pair of boots, post to the comments below describing:

  1. What boots you currently wear, and what you like/dislike about them
  2. What features are important to you in a pair of uniform boots
I’ll pick a random winner from those who respond.

Eight More Tips on Ambulance Wrangling

Our apologies for the lack of updates while we battle technical difficulties here at EMSB HQ. Here’s a few quick tips to tide you over until the next meaty helping of knowledge.

Still learning your way around that temperamental home-away-from-home we call the ambulance? Try these ideas for making life easier. As always, they apply foremost to the Ford diesel chassis, but may work elsewhere as well.

  1. If your stretcher mount is misadjusted, you may have trouble getting the side-rail to “release” and lock home when you insert the stretcher. Whether it’s too tight or too loose, try the following maneuvers, in this order: pull back (toward you); stand on the step and lift it directly up; sit on the leftmost side of the bench seat, place your feet on the lower deck of the stretcher base (this is the rail upon which the wheels are mounted, not the upper rail that holds the mattress), and use your legs to firmly press it into the side bracket. Do not, except in utter extremis, solve this problem by “slamming” the stretcher against the wall.
  2. If your backboards don’t fit their slot snugly, they tend to bang around at every turn. Try folding a large towel or two into a thin strip (6″–12″), rolling it tightly so that it forms the thickest possible pad, then stuffing it into the void so that everything’s held snug. (You can stuff anything in there, but you need something pretty substantial and the rolled towel seems to work best.)
  3. If you have a module power switch in the cab, but no remote switch for the patient compartment heat/AC, get in the habit of leaving the thermostat switched on in the back, blasting whatever air is appropriate for the weather. Then to save the battery, kill the module power whenever you shut off the engine. That way, you can pre-heat or cool the passenger compartment while on your way to a call by just throwing the switch up front.
  4. If you’re not feeling up to shutting your door to the cab, you can usually get it to close by shoving it outward hard and letting it “bounce” off the hinge and recoil shut. In fact, you may be able to bounce the passenger-side door closed (if you’re at the wheel and an absent-minded partner leaves it open) by tapping the gas and then hitting the brake. A caveat: I have yet to hear the opinion of fleet maintenance on this practice.
  5. If it’s a truly scorching day, park in the deepest shade you can find, set the high idle (usually by locking the parking break), and prop open the hood to help ventilate. (The hood will often stay open without use of the support rod if you lift it all the way up and rest it against the windshield.) Remember that “Max A/C” recirculates the interior air, making it increasingly cold, while “Norm A/C” will continuously introduce fresh air.
  6. From the “off” position, turn the ignition key backward (towards you) rather than forward to activate the “accessories” mode. This activates the FM radio, windows, etc. but will automatically shut off power before your battery runs dangerously low; that way you can sit there with power without running the engine. However, test this to see if your two-way radios will remain on in this mode; I’ve seen it work both ways.
  7. Look around the passenger compartment, particularly on the rear doors. Are there any speakers visible? If so, you can probably pipe music back here from the FM radio in the cab, a great way to keep patients entertained if they’re game. Just like in your car, the radio should have settings to adjust the balance, which controls how much volume comes through the left vs. the right speakers, and the fade, which controls how much volume comes through the front vs. the rear speakers. Normally, it will be faded all the way forward; just adjust it into the middle to pump your jam through the speakers in both compartments. Try asking what genre they prefer, and for bonus points, plug in your iPod for a fully DJ-able experience. Just remember to fade everything forward again at the end of the call, or you’ll inadvertently subject all your future patients to your Taylor Swift Experience.
  8. Run your seatbelt adjuster (there should be a slider where it attaches to the wall) all the way up to the top, keep it buckled, and the belt will make a pretty decent pillow for your cheek.
Anyone else have some good ones to share?

Psychological First Aid

Eventually, we all reach EMS satori — I’m referring, of course, to the realization that most of our job doesn’t involve saving lives, or performing any high-level, acute medical interventions. Once we understand this, the question becomes: what does our job consist of?

One good answer among many is the management of psychological rather than physical injury. Can we help the person, even when there’s little need to help the body? We sure can, and it seems like after all the hours we spent studying airway management, we should spend at least a little time developing this other skill. If we’re going to surrender our identity as ET tube samurai, we’d better become experts at dropping mental balms.

It may not be rocket science, but there is certainly a right and a wrong way to help. One good source of ideas for doing it the right way is called psychological first aid.

Psychological first aid, or PFA, is a system developed jointly by the National Child Traumatic Stress Network and the National Center for PTSD. It’s meant to be a psychological counterpart to medical first aid — not a replacement for long-term professional therapy, but merely a method for addressing the immediate, acute mental stress response following crisis. It’s largely aimed at post-disaster scenarios, such as the victims of hurricanes and mass casualty incidents, and it’s become the preferred methodology for American Red Cross personnel. However, it also has valuable concepts that we can use every day on the ambulance, to help us care for both patients and any of their family or friends who are struggling.

This sort of thing may come naturally to some people, but PFA rolls it together into a standalone curriculum that can be transmitted to any professional, particularly those of us who don’t specialize in mental health. It’s also evidence-based: there is research behind most of its interventions, and the science tells us that it generally works. (Contrast this to CISM, which many feel is baseless at best and counterproductive at worst.)

Classes are available; check with your local Red Cross for more information. But here are some of the concepts:


General ideas

  • Take your cues from the patient. If they want to talk, listen. If they don’t, don’t force them.
  • You’re here as support and to listen, not as Dear Abby; limit your input and resist the urge to offer advice. Be sparing with relating personal anecdotes or “war stories,” even if they seem germane; it’s the patient’s crisis, not yours.
  • Cater your approach to the patient’s age and culture. Children in particular will need a different style than adolescents and adults. When approaching children, make contact with parents first, and understand that both parties will probably need to be attended to.
  • Reassure them that their emotions and reactions, no matter what they may be, are understandable and acceptable, not pathological.
  • Use language that’s clear, simple, and personal, avoiding medical terminology or jargon.
  • Understand your own role and limitations, and be ready to bring in better-trained specialists.

Avoid these types of remarks:

  • I know how you feel.
  • It was probably for the best.
  • She is better off now.
  • It was his time to go.
  • Let’s talk about something else.
  • You should work towards getting over this.
  • You are strong enough to deal with this.
  • You should be glad she passed quickly.
  • That which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.
  • You’ll feel better soon.
  • You did everything you could.
  • You need to grieve.
  • You need to relax.
  • It’s good that you are alive.
  • It’s good that no one else died.


Major Goals


1. Contact and Engagement

As you go about the business of the call, make sure that you’re orienting yourself as somebody who’s willing and able to help. From the initial patient contact all the way until you shake hands and part ways, you should be presenting yourself as a compassionate professional; all it takes is one slip of the tongue or roll of the eyes to betray that you’d rather be back at quarters finishing your burrito.


2. Safety and Comfort

Obviously, you should ensure that you are both physically safe, and that immediate medical concerns are managed; this also includes the recognition of patients who could harm themselves or others (like you).

If you’re still at a scene or in the ED where upsetting things are happening (such as a resuscitation), try to move somewhere more quiet and controlled. Keep them physically comfortable, with blankets, a chair, food or water, etc. Remove them from anyone who is themselves panicked or emotionally distressed, but do help to put them in contact with social support, such as friends, family, or clergy.

Try to give people active, familiar things to do, rather than sitting there passively being overwhelmed. Anything, even minor tasks (“here, hold this”), that involve them with their own care or the care of their loved one is beneficial; perhaps they can make some phone calls or locate insurance information.

Share whatever information you have regarding what’s currently happening, including what’s happening to others affected, and what can be expected next (do use judgment on how much they want/need to hear at this stage, though). But don’t lie, guess, form unfounded predictions, or make promises beyond your control (“they’ll/you’ll be just fine”). Consider a broad interrogatory like “Is there anything else you’d like to know?”

Kids may appreciate something like a teddy bear, and you can use it as a proxy for their own care, for instance: “Remember that she needs to drink lots of water and eat three meals a day — and you can do that too.” Also, children especially are sensitive to alarming sights and sounds; try to shelter them from unnecessary stimuli.


3. Stabilization (if needed)

As we’ve talked about before, anyone experiencing an acute, uncontrolled emotional response needs to be stabilized and grounded before much else can be done. Be on the lookout for things like: glassy-eyed or vacant stares; aimless wandering or unresponsiveness; uncontrolled crying, hyperventilating, shaking, or rocking; or frantic, illogical, even potentially dangerous behavior such as perseverating on simple tasks (continuously searching for a pair of glasses) or walking thoughtlessly through traffic. Remember that reactions may ebb and flow in surges.

Rather than broad reassurances — “stay calm” — try to determine their specific concerns, even if not entirely rational, and help address them. If completely adrift, patients may be assisted in “grounding” by deep breathing and asking them to describe where they are or concrete aspects of their surroundings (I see a table, I see a clipboard).

Consider both giving them some brief privacy (do tell them when you’ll be back), and remaining present and available yet non-intrusive, such as sitting nearby while you finish paperwork.


4. Information Gathering: Current Needs and Concerns

Determine the specific problems and needs of the patient. Individual responses may be flavored by their own psychological backdrop (such as depression or anxiety), history of similar incidents (a prior MVA or death in the family), or other unpredictable elements (they can’t stand the waiting room music). In some cases, the need for referral to a specialist may become obvious here, such as uncontrolled schizophrenia or major stressors in the setting of known PTSD and a history of self-harm; don’t try to “wing it” in complex psychiatric cases.

Follow their lead, and don’t press for details — a CISD-type debriefing can come later, if appropriate. Listen actively and openly. Look for expressions of emotion in their remarks, then make clarifying comments such as: “It sounds like you’re being really hard on yourself about what happened” or “It seems like you feel that you could have done more.” No matter what, don’t judge.


5. Practical Assistance

Assist the patient with any practical issues, which may be dominating (or over-dominating) their attention. Offer to notify friends or family, arrange for needed support, or obtain information about their care. Larger needs (such as questions about the costs of treatment) may be beyond your immediate power to address, but you can often take the first step, such as notifying hospital staff of their concerns. At the very least, provide whatever information you can and discuss a plan for resolving the problem. Even small measures like a warm blanket can have both practical and psychological benefit.

Remember that, although you may not be the most knowledgable or appropriate resource for many concerns, as an EMS provider you may be the only person who has the time and ability to address them. If you don’t make that phone call or find them a glass of water, it may be a long time until anybody else does; and it may not seem like a priority to find someone to move their car, but imagine how much better they’ll feel after it gets ticketed and towed.


6. Connection with Social Supports

Make an effort to enlist the patient’s support structure. In some cases, the first step may be to actually ask some version of, “Do you have a support network?” Some patients, such as the elderly or homeless, may not, and may need to rely particularly on institutional support, such as social workers.

When multiple individuals are in a group, such as family members at a scene or in the waiting room, ask if they have any questions or requests; this can provide a jumping-off point for further communication.

Make particular effort to bring children together with their parents or caregivers, and try not to separate them unnecessarily. Consider engaging children with simple activities, such as tic-tac-toe, “air hockey” (wad up paper and try to blow it across a table into the opposing person’s “goal”; this also promotes deep breathing), or the scribble game (one person scribbles on a paper, and the other tries to make it into something coherent).


7. Information on Coping

This step focuses on describing common stress reactions so that individuals will be more equipped to manage them. It is probably best left to more specialized professionals, since our own training is usually limited here.


8. Linkage with Collaborative Services

Help pass the patient along to existing resources, either by providing contact information or through direct referral. Most hospitals will have phone numbers or extensions for mental health, social work, counseling, and other services, and there are hotlines available for individuals not in care at a facility. (It’s worth having this sort of thing in your phone or on a cheat sheet, so that it’s available when you need it.)

When bringing in other aid, and even when making routine hand-offs to ED staff and the like, try to smooth the transition of care. Patients often feel as if they are passing through the hands of an endless series of personnel, with each one demanding to hear their story (and probably take their vital signs). Make an effort to give full, complete reports, and to establish your credibility through word and deed so that receiving staff feel less of a need to do it all over again; in particular, try to communicate whatever concerns or emotional state the patient is currently experiencing, so that the job of managing it can be seamlessly turned over. Introduce the new “helper” (for instance, the RN) directly to the patient, and let them know that they’ll be taking care of them; don’t just disappear, or they may feel abandoned.


Further information can be downloaded here from the National Center for PTSD.