It’s National EMS Week May 15 to May 21, 2016, time to show our appreciation for so many who come to our aid when we need them. President Obama just signed this year’s proclamation saying, “Every day across our Nation, women and men sacrifice precious time with their loved ones, working long and hard to provide emergency medical services (EMS) to people they have never met before.”
We often take for granted that EMS responders, police and firefighters will come for us when we call 911 without fully understanding everything these selfless individuals do every day for strangers and neighbors alike. First of all, the Emergency Medical System includes more than the ambulance; it begins with dispatchers who answer the 911 calls and direct instructions to the appropriate agencies, all emergency responders (including firefighters and police) are part of the system, ambulance crews consisting of medical professionals of EMTs and Paramedics, the hospital receiving staff of nurses and doctors, and also EMS educators and government oversight agencies. We should appreciate all of them.
Let’s talk about the ambulance crews. There are more than 21,000 licensed local EMS agencies in the United States more than half of which provide Basic Life Support services (EMT Basic); the rest operate at EMT-Intermediate and Paramedic level services. Approximately 40% of the EMS agencies in the US are fire-department based. One-third of the states rely heavily on Volunteer EMS agencies. The people who respond on the ambulance are highly skilled and trained individuals who provide vital pre-hospital life-saving skills and often transportation to hospitals and other medical facilities. The ability of a community to survive and recover during and after a disaster depends heavily on the strength of its first responders. While many agencies help to provide in-service training and updates, much of the initial extensive training is taken on the individual’s own time and expense.
EMTs are taught to take and assess vital signs and do patient assessments. EMTs are trained to handle cardiac and respiratory arrest, heart attacks, seizures, diabetic emergencies, respiratory problems and other medical emergencies including traumatic injuries and many sudden illnesses. Paramedics can perform all of the skills performed by an EMT, plus advanced airway management such as endotracheal intubation, electrocardiographs (ECGs), insertion of intravenous lines, administration of numerous emergency medications, and assessment of ECG tracings and defibrillation. Individual states differ as to whether EMTs and Paramedics are state certified or licensed and there is a National standard of minimum qualifications.
When the patient of family member is in pain and scared, it is not always easy to see the responders as vulnerable human beings who can get injured or sick as well. Responders will come out at all hours and in all weather conditions; many times when the public is advised to stay off of roadways, there are still ambulances and other emergency vehicles heading to scenes where help is needed. Our health providers come into contact with many communicable diseases and need to take precautions to protect their own health as well as the health of their families. There are also cases where a seemingly innocuous health emergency is also combined with a potential for violence.
Between road hazards, violent encounters, falls, communicable diseases, and emotional stresses, there is a growing number of disabilities and even LODDs (Line of Duty Death) among both paid and volunteer EMS providers. With more than 20-thousand injuries and illnesses reported yearly (CDC 2013), more than half of these are attributed to EMS responders under 35 years of age. It’s not a job done for the money as the American average for the EMS provider salary begins below $20,000 with a minority as high as $50,000; EMS providers usually begin their careers after deciding to help people and make a difference, they care for their patients and push themselves to act even sometimes when it compromises their own health and well-being.
So let’s take this week, and actually all year round, to say thank you to EMS providers who show up at your door, to roadways and more so that they can help perfect strangers, save lives and improve the quality of our lives.
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Matt Garratti, a paramedic from New York, moves his wife and son to North Carolina to work at his dream job as a flight medic. Pakistani born Sudah, his wife, receives frosty stares and insensitive comments from their new neighbors. Before long, Matt wonders if he is pursuing his dream or bringing his family into a nightmare from which they may never wake.