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14 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of Paramedics

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Paramedics, who are among the most highly-skilled of Emergency Medical Services (or EMS) professionals, are in many ways like real-life superheroes, tending to people in their time of greatest need. While most of us hope to never see a paramedic on our doorstep, their appearance in times of distress can be critical to patient survival and recovery. Mental_floss spoke with several of these professionals about what it's like to be a medical first responder.

1. THEY ARE NOT JUST “AMBULANCE DRIVERS.”

Paramedics are skilled medical professionals who have undergone many hours of rigorous training—far more than your average emergency medical technician (EMT). “A lot of people call us ambulance drivers,” says Nick, a critical care paramedic in New York. “It aggravates us because driving is such a small part of the job. Emergency medicine is what we’re doing.” Medical tasks paramedics regularly carry out include administering medication, starting IVs, intubating unconscious patients to help them breathe, intraosseous (bone) injections, reading electrocardiograms (EKGs), needle chest decompression (sticking a needle into the ribs to fix a collapsed lung), and differentiating between different types of heart attacks.

2. THEIR JOB IS NOT ALL BLOOD, BRUISES, AND BROKEN BONES.

Contrary to the popular image of emergency medical workers, some paramedics handle a relatively small number of traumatic injury calls. In New York and other big cities, the emergency medical system can be large enough to be split into specific specialties. Consequently, explains Thomas Rivalis, a New York paramedic who runs emergency management consulting firm Sagex LLC, city EMTs are often sent to scenes of trauma, while paramedics respond to medical calls (think heart attacks, strokes, and seizures). “If you are in a car accident, the person pulling you out of the car is most likely an EMT,” he says. “If you see someone clutch their chest and fall over, and you call 9-1-1, that is most likely going to be a paramedic.”

But in smaller suburban and rural systems, where resources are scarcer, it is more common for duties to overlap and paramedics to handle all types of calls.

3. THEY MIGHT ALSO HAVE TO PUT OUT FIRES—LITERALLY.

Emergency medical systems vary greatly by location, resulting in significant differences in the work paramedics carry out. Bruce Goldthwaite, a shift captain and paramedic in Franklin, New Hampshire, works in a dual role system where paramedics not only respond to all types of calls, but where all emergency medical workers work as firefighters as well. Bruce explains that on a typical day, he “could go on an ambulance call, to a building fire, on a technical rescue ... On an odd day you could be on all of those trucks in a single shift.”

There are other common differences. Rural and suburban EMTs, unlike their urban counterparts, are frequently volunteers, drawing a paycheck if they choose to move on and become paramedics. And it’s typical for small-town EMS workers to wait for calls in a station house outfitted with beds and a lounge, unlike New York medics, who spend their time between calls waiting on an assigned corner in an ambulance.

4. THEY FIND WAYS TO FILL THEIR DOWN TIME.

While the job of an EMS worker is all about action, it also involves a fair amount of time sitting in an ambulance (or a station, depending on where you work) waiting for disaster to strike. Every paramedic has their preferred way of filling the time. “HBO Go is a thing,” Thomas says. “You’ve got guys who will binge-watch a whole series of Game of Thrones. Some people read. Then you’ve got the super tech who wants to bring in cardiac textbooks.” Since paramedics are subject to regular recertification, they sometimes use their downtime for studying. Thomas adds, however, that “bringing any type of napping accoutrement (read: pillows, blankets) is frowned upon.”

5. TRAFFIC IS THEIR BIGGEST HAZARD.

While driving may not constitute the most significant part of a paramedic’s job, it is one of the most dangerous. Nick has been in over 10 collisions in the course of his EMS career. “Far and away the driving is the most dangerous aspect,” he says. “When you’re driving with sirens and going through red lights and trying to move aggressively through traffic, it’s inherently dangerous.”

Compounding the issue is the fact that the patient compartment of most ambulances, unlike the cab, is essentially an aluminum box that doesn’t offer a lot of protection. Medics take care to secure their patient in the stretcher but frequently remain untethered themselves while working, putting them at risk of being flung around in the event of a wreck. The American ambulance manufacturing industry is taking steps to adopt safer crew restraint systems similar to those in Europe and Australia, but change is slow in coming.

6. ABOUT THAT LOVELY SOUND ...

Few people would describe the sound of an ambulance siren as “nice.” Urban dwellers, in particular, loathe the shriek that seems to form a constant backdrop to city life. But how do paramedics, who hear sirens far more than anyone else, feel about this tool of their trade?

“People give you nasty looks when you turn on a siren. Like ‘oh, my eardrum,’” Thomas says. “It’s not that much quieter inside the cab.” Particularly pernicious is the rumbling siren known as the Howler, which is a feature on some police cars and ambulances. “The button actually says ‘wear hearing protection when you use this,’” Thomas says. “You think any of us even have hearing protection?” Nick, however, insists that he has gotten so used to sirens that he can sleep through them.

7. STAIRS ARE THEIR NEMESIS.

Paramedics dread calls that involve stairs. Throw in a heavy patient unable to get up and down steps by themselves, and you have a recipe for paramedic back strain. These jobs can be particularly brutal in New York, where buildings are tall and pre-war structures often lack an elevator. Thomas describes arriving at a building to tend to a patient on the 15th floor, only to find that the elevator was out of service. “Just as we were getting ready to carry her down,” he says, “the repair guys finished fixing the elevator. I’ve never been so happy.”

8. THE TRAINING IS VERY TOUGH.

Becoming an entry-level EMT (or EMT-B, for Basic) requires between 120 and 150 hours of schooling, but acquiring the skills to become a paramedic requires many more—typically around 1200 to 1800 additional hours. Like a lot of medical training, it is rigorous and the hours long. Nick refers to his own training as “just grueling ... It’s basically a straight year where you’re not going to see your friends, you’re not going to see your family.” Not everyone makes it through on their first try. And, unfortunately, if you drop out, you have to start all over again.

9. THE PAY IS NOT NECESSARILY GREAT.

For people who spend their time saving lives, EMS workers are not always well-compensated. The median annual wage for paramedics and EMTs in 2015 was $31,980. Within that, there is a broad pay range, with EMTs (volunteer units aside) often making considerably less (around $10 an hour in some places), and the best-paid paramedics making over $60,000.

10. DARK HUMOR IS PRETTY COMMON.

Sometimes a few jokes are necessary to get through a day filled with illness and injury. Paramedics are known to rely on this strategy, and their wisecracks frequently take trip to the dark side. “It’s just terrible, terrible dark humor all the time,” Nick says. “Sometimes people who are not in medicine are aghast. When you face mortality all the time, you have a different perception of death.”

11. THEY CAN BE SUPERSTITIOUS.

Actors avoid speaking the name of Macbeth, instead referring to the famous Shakespeare work as “the Scottish play.” And they would rather have someone tell them to “break a leg” than to wish them good luck. Paramedics, it turns out, have their superstitions too. Thomas says that he avoids uttering the words “slow” or “quiet” (he uses the “S-word” and the “Q-word”) on the job, lest they invoke the wrath of the “EMS gods” and bring about a tough shift. In addition, some paramedics earn a reputation as “black clouds.” “You work with that one person,” he says, “and you know that there’s going to be a cardiac arrest or a five car pileup.”

12. THEY’RE HERE TO HELP.

Paramedics earn their superhero reputation for a reason: Most are drawn to the job out of an earnest desire to help people. Bruce says that he has always enjoyed helping others, but that he was set on his particular path after watching a paramedic attend to his father when he was having a cardiac arrest. “It was pretty impressive,” he says, “and I thought if you can help people in that way, I like it. Sign me up.” For Thomas, one of the biggest rewards is the opportunity to bring “dignity to people who don’t often get to experience it—people who have dependence issues, people who are homeless. You’re interacting with these people in a position of authority, and you can use this to make their day worse than it is, or you can bring a little dignity to their lives.”

13. THEY LIKE IT IF YOU’RE NICE.

Because they deal with people in distress, a paramedic’s job is often thankless. It helps if you’re nice. “We’re human. We make mistakes,” Thomas says. “We have bad days, we have good days. We all come to work to help people and we try our best. But it’s up to the person that we’re helping to meet us half way. We know we’re coming in on the worst day of your life—but the best thing that you can do is just give us your cooperation. You want to get to the hospital. We want to take you to the hospital. But we have to assess you first.”

14. THE ONLY WAY TO KNOW WHETHER YOU’RE A PARAMEDIC IS TO GO ON A FIRST CALL.

Bruce emphasizes that much of what a paramedic sees on a daily basis the general public will never have to encounter in their lives. “It’s a very gratifying job,” he says, “but it’s a tough job. You see a lot of things that you can’t get rid of.” Despite the many hours of training and simulations that go into certification, it’s not possible for an EMS worker to know how they will react in a real situation until they are actually in one. “You can do all the classroom work and all the preparatory imagining of what it’s going to be like when you’re standing in front of a person who’s dying,” Nick says. “Sometimes people just can’t handle it, and you can’t really guess who it’s going to be.” He adds, however, that he took to the job pretty quickly. Fortunately for the public, people who have what it takes to be a paramedic are out there.

All photos via iStock.

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9 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of Hollywood Body Doubles
Hugh Jackman and his Real Steel body double, Taris Tyler
Hugh Jackman and his Real Steel body double, Taris Tyler
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When you see the back of an actor’s head in a movie, it may not be the actor you think it is. In addition to stunt performers, most movies employ body doubles (or photo doubles) with a passing resemblance to the principal actors. While some body doubles are brought on set for specific skills—like helping an actor pass as a professional athlete—the job can often involve just being a body, whether that means being nude on camera, having photogenic hands, or appearing in place of actors who can’t be on set for some reason. Here are nine secrets of the job:

1. THEY MIGHT ONLY BE MODELING ONE BODY PART.

Body double Danielle Sepulveres has played the hands of other actors in plenty of roles in her career, on TV and in beauty commercials featuring close-up shots of her holding moisturizer or makeup. She’s drizzled dressing on salad in place of Brooke Shields. She regularly slides files across tables, makes lists, and pours wine in the place of actresses on The Good Wife. (She has also played Jill Flint's butt on the show.) “I knew only glimpses of my hands might make it into a shot, or part of my shoulder along with a wisp of hair,” she wrote of one of her jobs in Good Housekeeping in 2016. But she overheard the director complaining that her wrists looked “vastly different” than those of the principal actress in the movie, 2015’s Mania Days. “Luckily, I didn't get fired in spite of my wrists, but I wouldn't have been surprised had it happened.”

2. THEY’RE NOT JUST THERE TO SHOW THEIR BUTTS.

Yes, body doubles are often brought in if an actor doesn’t want to bare it all on camera. But they are hired for other reasons, too. For one thing, union rules mandate the actors get 12 hours off between when they leave set for the day and their next call time, so if the shoots are running long, the crew might employ someone else to stand in. Other times, it's a matter of particular talents. Most actors may be able to sing, dance, and cry on camera, but few also have the athletic skills to allow them to pass as a sports legend. In Battle of the Sexes (2017), Emma Stone plays Billie Jean King, one of the best tennis players of all time. To realistically represent King’s skills on the court, the movie makers brought in tennis doubles to play in place of Stone and her co-star, Steve Carell. Stone’s double was chosen for her playing style, which resembled King’s, and worked with King on-set to perfect her imitation. The effort was, according to The Wall Street Journal, a huge success. “Not only is the tennis believable, it’s a meticulous representation of the type of tennis played in that era: serve and volley, chipping and charging to the net, touch volleys and soft hands.”

3. ACTORS CAN GET TOUCHY ABOUT WHO PLAYS THEM.

When you are tasked with choosing a celebrity doppelgänger, you’ve got to keep egos in mind. “The choice reflects on the principal actor,” DeeDee Ricketts, the casting director for Titanic, told Vanity Fair in 2016. “We have to take into consideration that they can’t be too thin, or more beautiful, or too heavy, or too old, or else the principal actor will think, That’s how they see me?” Actors often get to give input on who will be their double, and sometimes have final approval rights written into their contracts. When she was being considered for the job of Janet Leigh's body double in Psycho's iconic shower scene, model and Playboy covergirl Marli Renfro had to strip down for both Alfred Hitchcock and Leigh herself so that they could make sure her body looked enough like Leigh's, as Renfro recently revealed at a Brooklyn screening of the documentary 78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene. In the case of nude scenes, actors might even have final approval on what physical moves their doubles are allowed to make.

4. THEY MIGHT NEVER MEET THEIR DOUBLE ...

If you’re working as an actor’s double, by definition, you’re not going to have scenes with them, and so some body doubles never meet the stars they’re pretending to be. Danish actor Elvira Friis, who worked as a body double for Charlotte Gainsbourg (and her character’s younger self, played by Stacy Martin) during the racier scenes of Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac (2013), never met the actor. “The closest I got to Charlotte Gainsbourg was that I was wearing her dress,” Friis told The Wall Street Journal.

5. OR THEY MIGHT SPEND A LOT OF TIME WITH THE PEOPLE THEY'RE PORTRAYING.

But how much time an actor spends with their doppelgänger really depends on the role. Some actors spend plenty of time with their doubles on set helping them get into the role. In What Happened to Monday (2017), Noomi Rapace plays the roles of seven identical sisters, making body doubles a necessity on set. Rapace helped direct her doubles during filming, “as they needed to know how the star would play the scene for each character so that it would sync up when she performed the part herself,” according to The Hollywood Reporter. Game of Thrones star Lena Headey (who plays Cersei) worked closely with her double Rebecca Van Cleave for a nude scene in the show’s fifth season finale. Headey walked Van Cleave through her character’s thinking and movements for each shot. Then, Headey did the same performance herself, wearing a beige dress that could later be edited out. In the final product, Headey’s facial expressions were merged with Van Cleave’s nude body.

6. THEY DON’T ALWAYS LOOK EXACTLY LIKE THEIR COUNTERPARTS.

Because body doubles are often only seen from the back or side, they may not look quite as much like their acting counterpart as you’d think. Brett Baker, who worked as Leonardo DiCaprio’s body double for Titanic, is several inches shorter than DiCaprio and seven years older. From the front, you wouldn’t peg him as a Jack Dawson lookalike. But with the same clothes and haircut, shot from above and behind, he passed easily as DiCaprio. Once Leo’s closeups were done, according to Vanity Fair, Baker was often brought in to stand opposite Kate Winslet as she played through her half of the scene. In some cases, he didn’t make it into the final shot at all, but still had to be on set for those 14-hour days.

7. THESE DAYS, THEY GET A BOOST FROM CGI.

With the help of technology, filmmakers can put their leading actor’s face on a body double’s torso, so they don’t have to limit their body doubles to just back-of-the-head or partial shots. This allows them to seamlessly meld both the main actor and the body double’s performances in post-production. That can allow directors to get exactly the scene they want in shows like Orphan Black, which features Tatiana Maslany playing multiple roles, or in cases where actors don't want to get totally naked on-camera. In rare cases, it can also be used to bring actors back from the dead. When Paul Walker died in a car crash midway through filming Furious 7 (2015), the filmmakers used his brothers and another actor as body doubles, superimposing computer-generated images of Walker’s face on their performances. Around 260 shots featuring Walker’s doubles appeared in the final cut.

8. IF AN ACTOR CAN’T ALTER THEIR WEIGHT FOR A ROLE, A BODY DOUBLE CAN FILL IN.

When Matt Damon was filming The Martian (2015), he wanted to lose 30 to 40 pounds to portray astronaut Mark Watney after he had been surviving on meager rations for years. But the filming schedule made that impossible, so a body double had to be brought in for some shots. “I was going to lose a bunch of weight in the third act of the movie, then put the weight back on,” Damon told Maclean’s. However, as the schedule shook out, they filmed the NASA interiors in Hungary, then immediately went to Jordan, which doubled as the Red Planet for the film’s purposes, and shot all the exterior shots from the beginning, middle, and end of the movie, with no time for Damon to lose a significant amount of weight. The skinny body double isn’t on screen for long. “It was, like, two shots,” Damon describes. (Still, fans noticed.)

9. SOMETIMES THEY NEVER MAKE IT IN FRONT OF THE CAMERA AT ALL.

When it comes to nude scenes, sometimes body doubles are hired but never used. Veteran body double Laura Grady was cast as Robin Wright’s lookalike for State of Play (2009), but didn’t shoot a single scene. “I just sat in my trailer, ready to go, and then at the end, [Wright] decided to do her own scenes,” Grady told Vulture in 2014. “That happens sometimes. Sometimes they just get a body double because they think they might need one, and then all of a sudden the actress is comfortable and she’s like, ‘No, I’ll just do it.’ Or they change a scene and they don’t make it as risqué.” Don’t worry, though—the double still gets paid.

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9 Secrets of Whole Foods Employees
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With 474 stores across the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, Whole Foods has cornered the market on organic, high-end groceries. And while the company is currently undergoing changes (such as lowering prices on many items) due to Amazon’s recent acquisition, we got the 411 on what it’s like to work there now. Here’s an inside look at how employees feel about the store’s high prices, why they can’t do much about shoplifters, and what they really do with damaged fruit.

1. THEY HAVE MIXED FEELINGS ABOUT THE STORE’S PRICES.

Many items at Whole Foods cost more than at other grocery stores, and the company’s “whole paycheck” nickname has some truth to it. While some team members defend the store’s notoriously high prices, others admit that they can’t afford to shop there. As Whole Foods Culinary Content Editor Molly Siegler explains to PopSugar, the store has high standards. “We have a whole team that’s dedicated to using science and really heavy research to figure out what can and can't be in our stores,” she says. “At a minimum, we have no artificial colors, no artificial preservatives, no artificial sweeteners, and no hydrogenated fats. Every single thing in our stores meets those standards, and often people don't realize that.” Whole Foods also lets customers sample anything before they buy it, return anything for a refund or store credit, and use coupons to lower their grocery bill.

On the other hand, some employees admit that Whole Foods makes high margins on candy (such as fancy marshmallows) and Whole Body products, the section of the store that contains vitamins, supplements, organic makeup, and skincare. “A lot of the things we sell—there’s no way I could buy [them],” an anonymous Whole Foods employee who works at a store in Southern California tells Mental Floss.

2. THEY MIGHT PUT DAMAGED PRODUCE IN YOUR SMOOTHIES.

Whole Foods worker stocking vegetables
JEFF HAYNES/AFP/Getty Images

The juice and smoothie bar at Whole Foods may look like it offers a tantalizing mix of fresh fruit and pristine vegetables, but the reality might be less than picture-perfect. Employees at some stores reportedly put old fruit and spinach into green smoothies, while others use bruised and damaged apples to make discounted apple juice. Similarly, some stores may put lettuce, tomato, onions, or mixed greens that haven't sold yet (and will go bad in a day or two) in the salad bar.

3. THEY WISH YOU WOULDN’T USE THEM AS YOUR DOCTOR.

Whole Foods’ commitment to health and high-quality products means that some customers treat their visits to the grocery store more like visits to a doctor, pharmacist, or holistic nutritionist. Although employees in the Whole Body department can help you find vitamins and supplements, they can't diagnose you or suggest treatment plans. “I cringe to think about how much money people dump into trying to solve their problems by taking the advice of the perfect-looking community college student in the body and vitamin aisle when what they need is treatment by a medical doctor,” writes a former Whole Foods employee on Gawker.

4. THEY DON’T ACTUALLY MAKE ALL THEIR PREPARED FOOD IN-HOUSE.

people in line at Whole Foods
TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images

You might assume that employees in each store’s kitchen bake or cook the items you see in the prepared foods section. But that warm loaf of bread, bowl of quinoa salad, or slice of tiramisu that tempts you at lunchtime might not be made in-house. Depending on the location and size of the Whole Foods, some items that appear to be freshly cooked are not. Most bread, for example, is shipped frozen to each store and then baked in an oven. (Bigger stores are more likely to have a full-service kitchen.)

“Little to nothing is actually made from scratch in the Whole Foods bakeries each day,” a former Whole Foods chef writes on her blog. “In the South region, Whole Foods has a huge mass-production kitchen in Alpharetta, GA. If you shop at any Whole Foods in the South and get food off of the hot bar, off of the soup bar, out of the deli case or in pre-packaged containers in the sandwich cooler or refrigerated prepared foods wall, there’s a good chance that your food was actually made in that kitchen in Alpharetta.”

5. THEY LAUGH ABOUT THE “ASPARAGUS WATER” INCIDENT.

A selection of asparagus stalks on wood
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In 2015, some stores notoriously sold asparagus water—a bottle of water with three stalks of asparagus in it—for $6. Customers expressed their outrage on social media, poking fun at the product’s cost and silliness. Whole Foods soon removed the water from shelves, claiming it was a mistake, but the blunder lives on. Asked on Reddit if asparagus water is delicious, a Reddit user named wfmworker replied in the affirmative. “Honestly though, that whole situation didn't even shock me. WF sells some weird stuff.” In 2016, the store removed another $6 item—pre-peeled oranges in plastic containers—after Twitter users mocked the product’s pointlessness and damage to the environment.

6. THEY KNOW HOW TO HACK THE SALAD BAR.

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With an assortment of veggies, protein, nuts, and dressings, the salad bar at Whole Foods can be overwhelming, and it’s easy to pay a lot for a small container of food. But because items from the salad bar are priced according to weight, Whole Foods employees have some smart strategies on how to hack it. Some of their tips? Avoid heavier vegetables (like dense cauliflower or broccoli), skip beans, and use less dressing. According to a former Whole Foods Team Member who goes by psh_1_psh_2 on Reddit, you can also use the salad bar to save money on nuts. “The nuts on the salad bar are way less expensive than the nuts in bulk. You could theoretically just fill up your whole salad container with pecans or walnuts and save at least $2/lb,” he says.

7. THEY DEAL WITH SOME CRAZIES.

Whole Foods employees acknowledge that their customer base is unique. In general, the shoppers have a high disposable income, heightened interest in animal welfare, and a desire to support environmentally sustainable farming and fishing practices. But according to employees, it’s not uncommon to encounter customers who are demanding, entitled, or simply overshare their strange beliefs.

“In many cases, these customers have been privileged—financially and often otherwise—all their lives, which means many of them have massive entitlement complexes. It’s kind of hilarious to observe a building full of people who all believe that the world revolves around them,” says the former Whole Foods chef.

A former Whole Foods manager in California tells Thrillist that some customers discussed conspiracy theories with him. “I was so used to crazy people coming in that it became the norm. I had conversations with customers about chemtrails at a freaking grocery store. I had people go off on religious rants about Jews to me—and I'm Jewish, by the way,” he says. “People talk and run their mouths a lot and get too comfortable.”

8. THEY GO THE EXTRA MILE FOR THEIR CUSTOMERS.

Whole Foods employee at sample station with customer
Joe Kohen/Getty Images for Function Drinks

It’s no secret that the store’s items can be pricey, so Whole Foods employees put extra effort into making their customers happy. “I can say as a decorator in the bakery that we give extra time for free to cakes for really nice customers,” says psh_1_psh_2. Customers who smile and engage in small talk can brighten an employee’s day, transforming the experience of bagging groceries from a mundane task into an enjoyable one. Kailee Ver Valin, who has worked as a Team Member for over a year at a Whole Foods in North Carolina, explains that most customers respond positively to her friendliness. “The customers are thankful and friendly. I love talking to people,” she tells Mental Floss.

Additionally, the store’s butchers will debone animals, and sometimes season the meat, all for free. “A lot of people do that in our offices for lunch, or it's a really easy thing to do right before you head home for dinner. And it's not just salt and pepper—there's interesting rubs and spice mixes,” Siegler says.

9. THEY CAN’T DO MUCH ABOUT SHOPLIFTING.

Most Whole Foods employees have at least one story of customers stealing food. Whether someone eats from the prepared foods section before (or instead of) paying for it or lifts a container of vitamins and then asks for a refund, shoplifting is a big problem. Reddit user Lifeoncloud_9, who works as a supervisor at a Whole Foods in Chicago, explains that the company forbids employees from pursuing or trying to stop shoplifters: “We can get fired for confronting them. Most of the time we have an undercover loss prevention guard on duty. When there isn't, the most we can do is notify the manager on duty and he or she can ban them from the store."

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