Silent Alarm: Medical Author Chat with Steven L. Schrader FF/EMT retired


Retired firefighter/EMS Steven L Schrader is the guest for this episode of the Medical Author Chat. Steven is the author of Silent Alarm: On the Edge With a Deaf EMT (Amazon Link). Steven wrote his book based on his experiences as a firefighter EMT in Atlanta, Georgia.

I contacted Steven after Jamie Davis, the host of the MedicCast, forwarded me an email from one of his listeners. The listener was seeking our advice on becoming an EMT. He wrote that he is partially deaf and was having trouble with EMS instructors not giving him opportunities to practice and demonstrate competency at auscultation of things like breath sounds and lung sounds. My efforts to offer advice to this student led me to Steven and Silent Alarm.

Instead of an audio interview Steven requested that the interview be posted as text. To read what Steven has to say about the book and his advice to students that are profoundly deaf or hearing impaired continue reading.

Contributed to Medical Author Chat by Steven L Schrader

I never really intended for Silent Alarm to be an autobiography when it was originally a part of my therapy on the advice of my psychiatrist helping me deal with post traumatic stress syndrome for all the crap I’ve seen into writing, as a way of venting my anger, frustration and from the horror of working on the streets of Atlanta for thirty years.

It was on a dare from my mother to send it to Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., never really expecting them to publish it. I didn’t think anyone would believe it anyway. After it was published, I then decided I did want the book to offer alternatives choices for those who aspire to be a deaf firefighter or an EMT as to whether they think that they can fail or succeed based on my experiences.

As for the questions you submitted, I feel compelled not talk about the book but to take this opportunity to respond to the reader that contacted you who is struggling to gain entry into an EMT program.

Becoming a Firefighter

It is vital for anyone who wants to be a deaf firefighter or EMT must understand that their own success or failure to become one actually depends largely with their demographic, where you live, and if it is a volunteer or a career station. Metropolitan or in the boon docks. Georgia or New York. In fact, a deaf person would have a better chance in the North than in the South. Deaf education is far more superior in the northern states than in the South. A good education is vital to the success or failure in becoming a deaf firefighter or EMT. That was my main point when I wrote the book.

Now, I don’t know if the reader who contacted you is profoundly deaf or hearing impaired with some residual speech. I do believe that between the two that the chance of failure or success is in itself definite. A profoundly deaf firefighter is not feasible when a hearing impaired firefighter is more likely to succeed with the right equipment. A deaf EMT is not possible and never will be. A hearing impaired EMT is possible, again, with the right equipment.

Still a deaf man might have a chance if he knew his history and how other deaf men became volunteers without restrictions.

In 1921, an independent deaf teacher, Albert Pierce claimed the secret to happiness for a deaf-mute then, if not today to be a deaf firefighter, was, ‘to forget that he or she was deaf and try to meet on equal terms whosoever comes in contact with him,’ especially with other firefighters. That statement he made alone was the reason I succeeded. It is the ultimate key to success and again education and more education. Never stop going to school.

How to Start

The best way to start is to be a deaf advocate and become a ‘certified’ observer with the local fire department. Most of them do have program that allow citizens to ride with the fire department. That would be an excellent way to know if a deaf man has what it takes to become a deaf firefighter and be willing to accept his restriction and limitation by picking up a technical fire manual and read it. If unable to understand the technical terms, a deaf man is not ready to become a deaf firefighter, much less an EMT.

Quite honestly, when I wrote Silent Alarm, I had never heard of another deaf firefighter and didn’t think there would ever be one. I am quite surprised after having visited the internet and read how many of these deaf firefighters claimed to know how to become one but yet they are restricted on many job functions of a firefighter. Many of them insist that the fire station must learn sign language.

But they are all going about it the wrong way. Many of them are using the ADA law as a weapon.

Becoming a Deaf Firefighter

The original manuscript was more than 500 pages. The publisher’s budget forced the manuscript to be drastically edited to some odd 150 pages. So I didn’t really feel it was a success since there were so much more to talk about. Unfortunately, how to become a deaf firefighter or an EMT was edited out.

Sequel Book: How to be a Deaf Firefighter

I am currently writing my next book, ‘How to be a Deaf Firefighter’, including the remarkable history of deaf volunteer firefighters. It will, I hope, help answer questions by providing a guideline, or as a manual, so to speak, for those who desire to be a deaf firefighter or an EMT.

If I may have the opportunity, I would like to clarify my status as this country’s first deaf firefighter and EMT, for those who dispute my claim. Although, I am not the first since there were deaf volunteer firefighters since 1835, I was a career firefighter, deaf educated, as well as an emergency medical technician, for thirty years without restrictions that other deaf firefighters and EMT s are experiencing today.

I would also like to clarify that I am legally deaf, although I am hearing impaired with an obvious speech impediment. I totally rely on lip-reading and used to wear hearing aids. It’s been interesting to know that in some psychiatric literatures in medical journals, dealing with deafness, the authors claimed that it was actually my rapid oral communication skills that had helped me to overcome and adapt in Fire, EMS and the military. I’ll give that credit to the Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf and my parents. Education and honor thy mother and father.

Homicide or Suicide?

Even if a deaf man failed, it took courage to try and be willing to risk his life. But by chance, he succeeds; he is committing suicide or risking the lives of other firefighters and citizens alike. Mine included.

His biggest fear should be being the first and only firefighter on a structural fire. Only then a deaf firefighter will understand his limitation and realize he is just as valuable assisting the other firefighters to do what he cannot do in the first place.

Being the first deaf firefighter on the scene and unable to communicate with the child’s mother, to her location in the house, is tantamount to manslaughter. There are no amounts of modern technology that can ever replace the sense of hearing a small child crying out for help in a house fire.

Favorite Stories: How did I survive?

The obese woman and having to make the decision that only God makes as to whether she would live or die or of having met Jesus when I wanted to jump off a parking deck and the horror of how people live was nothing to the shock of having survived and lived about it to retire. And I am deaf! Many of my partners have died in the line of duty, some on crack, cocaine, AIDS, suicide or from infections picked up off the streets. That is usually the first question that most people I meet ask … how did I survive? Quite honestly, I don’t know. I can’t say I have a favorite story. They are all bad. I have to live with it.

By Greg Friese

Greg Friese, Stevens Point, Wisconsin, is an author, educator, paramedic, and marathon runner.

Greg was the co-host of the award winning EMSEduCast podcast, the only podcast by and for EMS educators. Greg has written for,, Wilderness Medical Associates, JEMS Magazine, and EMS World Magazine, and the NAEMSE Educator Newsletter.