First responder vs. EMT: What’s the difference?

Do you have superhero-sized aspirations? Does your future include saving lives? Then maybe a career as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) is in your future?

Is an EMT the same as a first responder?

All EMTs are first responders, but not all first responders are EMTs. All first responders are trained in basic emergency medical responses, like checking for a pulse or administering CPR. EMTs take that training much further than just the basics.

If a future as an EMT or a first responder is something you’re considering, this article has been designed to aid you in your quest for superhero status.

What is a First Responder?

They’re superheroes, that’s what they are!

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A first responder is someone who has received specialized training in their respective field and is among the first to arrive and provide assistance at the scene of an emergency, including accidents, natural disasters, or acts of terrorism. Law enforcement officers, paramedics, firefighters, and emergency medical technicians are all recognized under the umbrella of first responders.

The term ‘first responder’ was first used to describe these living superheroes in a 1973 Boston Globe article. I’m assuming that before that, we just called them ‘the guardians.’

There are multiple designations for first responders, beyond law enforcement, paramedic, firefighter, or EMT:

  • Certified/Emergency medical responder: one who has received specialized training and is certified to perform life-saving actions in times of need (law enforcement, firefighters, paramedics, EMTs)
  • Community/Non-traditional first responder: a person who has received basic training in life-saving interventions like CPR (lifeguards, teachers, childcare workers, security officers, park rangers, SCUBA divers)

What is an EMT?

In the field of emergency medical services (EMS), the most common type of health professional is the emergency medical technician (EMT). EMTs provide medical care at the entry level of a patient. Emergency medical technicians are generally the first to be called to provide medical assistance in the event of a medical emergency, accident, or another type of emergency. As the first care providers, EMTs are normally the first person to examine the nature and severity of a patient’s or victim’s injury and provide transfer to the hospital via ambulance. EMTs are responsible for monitoring a patient’s condition and providing necessary care until a hospital can be reached.

EMTs work hand-in-hand with paramedics and regularly work alongside law enforcement and firefighters.

So, what do EMTs DO?

Once just thought of as an “ambulance driver,” today’s EMT performs many more duties and carries more responsibilities than days past.

EMTs have a host of responsibilities (you’re responsible for someone’s life, so it doesn’t get much heavier a load than that!) including:

  • Transporting patients/victims from emergency scenes to hospitals
  • Transporting patients from one medical facility to another
  • Mobily stabilizing and treating patients en route to the hospital
  • Notifying the hospital about the incoming injury or illness
  • Relaying the number of patients/victims en route to the hospital and an expected time of arrival
  • Assessing patients: severity of injury or illness; what further treatment may be needed upon arrival (will they need a surgeon?)
  • Maintaining detailed patient records (medical stats, medications administered, injury/illness presented)
  • Responding to 9-1-1 calls for emergency medical assistance
  • Utilizing backboards and restraints to immobilize patients and ensure safety during transport
  • Providing CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation)
  • Using defibrillators (AED machines)
  • Bandaging wounds
  • Controlling external bleeding
  • Preventing shock or further injury in patients
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Not only do EMTs do all of the above, but also may have to work when surrounded by people reacting to the emergency. You’ll need to use great communication skills to ask appropriate questions and collect additional information that you can relay to law enforcement, firemen, paramedics, the hospital, and, in some cases, used later for legal proceedings.

As an EMT, you’ll also need to be acutely aware of your surroundings to assess if you, the victim, or other first responders are still in a dangerous environment.

If this all sounds like the suit you’d like to wear, keep reading!

Where do EMTs work?

Emergency medical technicians are regularly employed by private ambulance services, hospitals, fire departments, and even law enforcement agencies.

Because the scope of practice for an EMT is limited (they are not a type of doctor, nurse, or physician’s assistant), they do have to work under the supervision of a physician or medical director. Although you can be both a nurse and an EMT, we’ll get into that a bit later on.

What does “scope of practice” mean for an EMT?

Scope of practice describes the services that an emergency medical technician is deemed competent to perform and permitted to do in keeping with the terms of their professional license.

The scope of practice for EMTs includes:

Airway and breathing:

Insertion of trach tubes
Use of positive pressure ventilation devices (manually triggered ventilators and automatic transport ventilators)

Pharmacological Interventions:

Assisting patients in taking their own prescribed medications properly
Administration of over-the-counter medications with appropriate medical oversight, like oral glucose tablets for suspected low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)

Trauma care:

Application and inflation of PASG (pneumatic anti-shock garment) to stabilize fractures
Application of bandages
Use of pressure bandages to decrease external bleeding

How do I become an EMT?

An EMT is an entry-level first responder position. The training you’ll receive to become an emergency medical technician is so useful that it’s required by other sectors of first responders, like firefighters. Many law enforcement agencies require their officers to attend EMT training courses.

There are just a few simple steps to becoming an EMT:

  • Is it Hard to Become a TSA Agent? What You Must Know.Meet your state’s basic requirements for becoming an EMT:
    Most states will require you to be 18 with a high school diploma or equivalent. Many training programs will request that you have prior CPR training before enrolling. When researching your state-approved programs, make sure to inquire about minimum starting requirements, as some programs may ask that you have basic college courses under your belt.
  • Get trained as an EMT:
    Most EMT training programs require 120-150 hours of coursework and normally take one year to complete. Your training will be in a classroom setting with a great hands-on component. EMT training is also a stepping stone to becoming a paramedic if that is something you would like to pursue.
  • Become a Certified EMT
    The National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) requires that you pass their national exam to become a certified EMT. Be sure to check with your state requirements as some states will require you to take a test designed specifically for that state.

Once you’ve become a certified EMT, to operate an ambulance, you will have to take an additional eight-hour course to receive a special designation on your license.

Once I’m a Certified EMT, I’m done with school, right?

In short, the answer is WRONG. Even if you choose to not pursue any other first responder paths, your educational career is far from over.

EMTs are required to renew their certification every two years. You can recertify in one of two ways:

  • Taking the NREMT or state cognitive exam
  • Completing continuing education: The EMT National Continued Competency Program (NCCP) requires you to complete 40 hours of continuing education credits to recertify.

After becoming a certified EMT, you can choose to receive further training to become an advanced EMT. Advanced EMT training is around 400 hours of coursework and training.

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So, are EMTs First Responders? Is an EMT the same as a first responder?

Yes! Like I said before, all EMTs are first responders, but not all first responders are EMTs.

EMTs respond to emergencies, including medical emergencies, hazardous materials (HAZMAT) situations, childbirth, child abuse, domestic abuse, fires, rescue situations, injuries, traumas, and even psychiatric crises.

Currently, EMTs have played an active role throughout the COVID-19 pandemic in assisting with patient overflow in heavily impacted areas to screening, testing, prevention, and vaccination administration.

Can I go from EMT to Paramedic?

Oh, YES, YOU CAN! You can move from EMT to paramedic with the proper training and education.

A paramedic is the highest level of emergency medical technician training. In addition to completing basic and advanced EMT training, you’ll have an additional 1200-1800 hours of training and coursework to complete.

Can I add a Registered Nurse to my resume as an EMT?


As an EMT, your education and experience can give you added value in the field of nursing and help you advance your career quickly. Further education and licensing will be necessary to become a registered nurse, but as a first responder, you will be able to offer a unique and valuable perspective to the nursing profession.

What about being a fireman and EMT?

To add a firefighter to your resume, you’ll have to attend a Fire Academy, which can last fourteen to sixteen weeks. Once all coursework is completed and certifications are achieved, you’ll have another set of life-saving tools to add to your superhero belt (and an added benefit to your pocketbook to the tune of $10,000+ per year).

More about first responders HERE.

So, can I be a law enforcement officer and an EMT?

We desperately need more good police officers and your training as an EMT could lead you to become the next one!

Law enforcement officers are normally the first to arrive on the scene at an emergency, more often than not, before any other first responders. Often those emergencies will require those responding to have emergency medical experience. Knowing how to treat injuries you will encounter as a law enforcement officer will put you in a category all your own.

What if I want to be the ultimate first responder: EMT-paramedic/firefighter/law enforcement?

It’s wholly doable, and to be quite honest, very valuable. More and more departments are looking for cross-trained individuals to fill the roster.

Related Questions

How much do EMTs make?

According to, the average EMT salary for 2021 is $24,000-$36,000 per year. (Remember, if you start adding other first responder certifications to your resume, your pay will increase!)

How much does EMT training cost?

EMT certificate training programs range from $1,300 to $6,500. Be sure to check with your state before enrolling in a program to ensure that it is accredited and usable in your area.

Is EMT work shift work?

Yes, working as an emergency medical technician will require you to work rotating shifts, 12- or 24- hour increments. Most EMTs will work more than forty hours per week, and because you work in emergencies, you will likely have to work some weekends and some holidays.

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Please note: This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult a legal expert to address your specific needs.