First Responder or EMT: Is There Really a Difference?

EMTWhen it comes to emergency medical response, there are some important points to remember. First, when it comes to rendering care to ill or injured people, there is a very clear and detailed training path that defines a responder’s scope of practice. The key word to keep in mind here is responder, as that term is the defining characteristic that makes the distinction between a good Samaritan and a trained emergency medical services (EMS) provider. A good Samaritan is a helpful or charitable person, doing whatever they can in a given situation. Examples of good Samaritan assistance would include moving injured persons away from a vehicle accident or attempting CPR, even with an expired certification. In these examples, a person may have no training at all, or outdated training, and there is no defined scope of practice or ‘duty to act’ in either case. This means a person can choose to become involved in helping a sick or injured person to the best of their ability. In short, good Samaritans do what they can but are not governed or regulated by set of rules or laws and can suffer no consequences for their efforts to help.


When a person receives formal and accredited EMS training, such as first aid/CPR, or enters a more formal training program to become an emergency medical technician (EMT) or paramedic, the rule set changes based on the tasks expected of that person. At the EMT level, once a person successfully completes an accredited training program, that person is eligible to become a first responder, and must adhere to the identified scope of practice for a particular county or state. Paramedics are similar; however, paramedics can render a much higher level of care but are still bound by an identified scope of practice. Anyone with first aid/CPR training can also be a first responder, but the scope of practice is far more limited than EMT or paramedic training.


To the question posed by the title of this piece, the term responder, or more specifically first responder indicates an assignment and expectation in addition to a level of certification. The first responder designation, however, is not limited to EMS personnel. It also includes law enforcement officers of all kinds; firefighters; park rangers; flight nurses and doctors, etc. Any person formally trained and recognized by a public or private entity, who is dispatched to an incident scene, and may be one of the first persons to arrive for the purpose of resolving an issue, is a first responder. Good Samaritans are not first responders, as they are outside of the rules and regulations that govern where and how emergency medical care is rendered.


In summary, first responders are those persons specifically trained and currently certified, with a duty to act on behalf of a company or civil service agency (municipal fire department, law enforcement, public safety EMS provider, etc.), and may be expected to be one of the first persons to arrive on a scene.