WVAC 911: Lessons from EMS — safety first
What do you imagine is the No. 1 priority for an emergency medical technician (EMT)?
When I ask people this question, most guess that it is taking care of the patient. While patient care is our job, our top priority is always our own safety. Following in close second is the safety of our partner.
This may seem contradictory to what you imagine for the job. Most people imagine that EMTs are always putting others first, even before their own safety. When responding to medical or trauma emergencies, the job involves being exposed to potentially dangerous conditions and situations as well as various body fluids. If our No. 1 priority is not our own safety, we may ourselves become an additional victim, and we may not be able to help the next person in need.
Whether we are responding to a multiple casualty incident or a call where an elderly person needs help getting up, EMTs must always prioritize their own safety. This is done by first ensuring that the scene is safe before entering. EMTs must listen to instructions from dispatch and observe the scene upon arrival. Most often, the Wilton Police and/or Fire Department are on scene before we arrive. In some circumstances, they will have instructed dispatch to have us “stage” or wait at a safe distance before they indicate the scene is safe for us to enter.
When arriving on scene, we position the ambulance in a safe place so it is visible and helps provide protection if needed. We consider what police and/or fire are doing as well. While we’ll have an indication of what to look for when entering a scene, we shouldn’t get tunnel vision and focus too narrowly on what we think the issue is based on information given to us. We have to always be aware of potential dangers, whether from the environment or the patient.
Another way we ensure we are safe is through use of personal protective equipment, also known as body substance isolation. At a minimum, EMTs will ensure they are wearing gloves. Depending on the nature of the call, we may need to use eye protection and masks. We consistently wash our hands and keep our equipment clean after every call.
For me personally, this was a very important life lesson. As a father and husband at home, and as a manager at work in my day job, I tend to feel my focus is on taking care of others. However, just like on an airplane when they tell you to apply your oxygen mask first, before helping others (because you can’t help anyone if you don’t have oxygen yourself), I have to remember to take care of myself, or I’m not at my best to help anyone else.
In this time of New Year’s resolutions and judging ourselves, remember to be good to yourself and take care, because frankly, if you don’t, you’ll eventually be calling us.
Joe Bryson, EMT
Wilton Volunteer Ambulance Corps