It’s okay to admit it: If you work in EMS, you’re likely inbred.

This realization hit me at a State ambulance association conference a few weeks ago where I was leading a session on how ambulance providers should use the media to make their agency stronger. As soon as I arrived, I saw former colleagues now working for different agencies. Some left on good terms; others, well, let’s say not so much.

It made me respect some people more than I did before. I felt sorry for others as they had to move and uproot their family to find another job in the profession. Yet, after it all, the same people were still in the room as before, just wearing a different logo on their shirt.

It reminded me of the importance of not burning bridges. I can personally vouch for the benefits of not burning bridges. I’ve been lucky enough to be invited to return to an employer a few years after leaving. Believe me, I was more surprised than anyone when I was asked, and am still grateful.

The trick to not burning bridges is really pretty simple. First, don’t slam a former employer on the way out the door, even if you have an opportunity or even a reason to do so. Second, keep in touch with the former coworkers you liked and respected while working there. If asked for advice, provide your honest opinion to help that friend succeed.

As it relates to burning bridges, it’s the same with reporters.

How many times has a coworker come to you after a story has run, demanding that you need to call the reporter or the editor and complain because they were misquoted, or they didn’t like something that was, or wasn’t mentioned in an article.  Should you call to vent your anger or to complain?

How would it make you feel if a reporter called your boss to say that you were bad at your job because your press release had typos? It’s the same thing as if you had complained about a reporter and make them look bad to their boss. All you’re doing is burning a bridge to someone you desperately might need on your side down the road.

Are there times when you need to call and ask for corrections? Absolutely. But those times are rare, so don’t waste them on minor items that really don’t matter. Also, try to be professional about it, not whiney. Most reporters really don’t have agendas. They just want to tell the story as simply as possible so they can move on to their next story. If you tell them of a substantive change, they want to correct it.

Let me throw out another idea. When was the last time you called or emailed a reporter to tell them you liked a story they wrote? It doesn’t even need to be about your agency. They don’t even need to respond. But there’s a good chance that they will remember that you complimented them without expecting anything directly in return.

You’ll remember it when they do the same to you. I still have the cards I received from a few reporters just days after serving as the spokesman through a line-of-duty death. It was the hardest week (professionally and emotionally) of my career, but two reporters took the time to send me notes thanking me for doing such a great job during the tragedy. They did it not because they expected something, but because they meant it.

That made it mean even more to me. And yes, over time they likely got a few extra exclusive stories as a result.

So, my fellow inbred siblings, I guess there are two lessons to this column and they both apply to your employer and the media. The first lesson is to not burn bridges. The second is to build those bridges stronger.