USA celebrates National EMS Week
This week, the US celebrates National EMS Week, which was initiated in 1974 by US President Gerald Ford to commend EMS practitioners and the important work they do in our communities. The American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP), in partnership with the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians (NAEMT), announced this year's EMS Strong campaign theme as ‘Ready Today. Preparing for Tomorrow’ and it is celebrated from 17 to 23 May 2020. EMS Strong is a national campaign in the US to raise awareness of EMS Week and the important role of EMS practitioners. Although an American event, we feel that it is important to highlight the challenges faced by our EMS personnel during these unprecedented times; the increase in stress, PTSD and constant fear of infection that plaque our frontline workers. Now, more than ever, we need to support each other and listen to and support our colleagues. The following is a contemplative article written by Arthur Hsieh, MA, NRP and a member of the EMS1 Editorial Advisory Board, who teaches in Northern California at the Public Safety Training Centre, Santa Rosa Junior College in the Emergency Care Programme. An EMS provider since 1982, Art has served as a line medic, supervisor and chief officer in the private, third service and fire-based EMS.
Reflecting while we celebrate by Arthur Hsieh
During this week of celebrating who we are, we also need to recognise who we are not – superheroes unaffected by the events surrounding us. National EMS Week is a time to be recognised for what we do – protecting the health of our communities by providing quality, compassionate care for those in their times of need. This year has been especially poignant as the global COVID-19 pandemic hit America's shores, causing major societal disruption and exposing field care providers to a potentially life-threatening hazard.
Coping with cumulative stress
Beyond the headlines though, there is much more to the story. In hot spot areas, EMS workers are reporting increased levels of stress at work. The daily effort to maintain strict protection protocols, with the constant fear of becoming infected and bringing the disease home to family and friends, has been going on for months. Furthermore, there is no end in sight, no finish line to cross. This is our new normal. There are many experts who are projecting that the next pandemic wave will be worse than now.
Many of us are also seeing a rising level of deaths occurring in the field. It seems like this is correlated with the overall drop in call volume that many systems have reported. One co-worker recently related that he had been involved in several cardiac arrests in the past two weeks. Prior to COVID-19, he might see one once a month or so. Many of these calls, and subsequent deaths were unexpected, and likely related to the reluctance of patients to seek emergency department care during this time of uncertainty.
This cumulative stress is part and parcel of the professional EMS provider's life. Dealing with pain and suffering on an everyday basis can cast shadows over even the most optimistic provider outlook on life. I suspect that many of us are feeling uneasy about our work, even as we learn more about how to manage this epidemic. This can be unsettling, even to the point of triggering those who are experiencing PTSD. I worry about provider suicide.
Our industry has been slowly waking to the emotional toll it exacts from its providers. National efforts like the Code Green Campaign have worked to spread information about provider mental health. Changes in the next EMS Education Standards will include explicit language regarding recognition and management of acute and chronic stress. Local organisations such as First Responder Resiliency are working with agencies to integrate mental wellness techniques into initial and continuing education for EMS and other public safety providers.
Building resiliency: taking care of each other
Beyond these initiatives are the actions we can take as fellow professionals. We are our brothers' and sisters' keepers. Who else can better understand what we see and feel in our daily line of work? Sometimes, we hesitate to reach out, feeling that somehow it's not our place in intrude on another's privacy. Nothing could be further from the truth. Many providers will relate that when life becomes overbearing, asking for help becomes a daunting effort. It's exactly during those times when a lifeline that is thrown to them is much desired and appreciated.
Not sure how to start the conversation? A simple “How are you doing today?” might be the start. Following up with “I'm here to listen and support you”, shows that you care. Hearing that might be a shock to the individual but it may be what they need to think about what's happening. If someone opens up, don't automatically try to problem solve. Just listen and provide support. Most agencies have referral ability to employee assistance programs (EAPs) and professional help. Increasingly, EAPs are taking the form of peer support that helps to build trust for those in need.
During this week of celebrating who we are, we also need to turn to each other and recognise who we are not – superheroes who are unaffected by the events surrounding us, not just today but every day. Taking care of ourselves gives us the ability to better take care of our communities.
“Thank you to all EMS practitioners for the significant impact you have on our society on a daily basis. Nobody really gets to see the affect our first responders have when they prevent incidents and respond timeously. It seems it is only when things go wrong that they make the news headlines. Your passion and dedication is commendable and we respect your service to the public,” The Fire and Rescue International Team.
COVID-19 Resources page
Visit our COVID-19 Resources page, which we created as a one-stop-shop for first responders, emergency services and chiefs in order to provide all available information on a single platform and save you the time of searching for documents and links.
New in the folder this week:
NDMC Guideline classification disaster and declaration state disaster, 1 April 2019
NDMC Guideline conducting initial onsite assessment, 1 April 2019
NDMC Guideline contingency planning and arrangements, 1 April 2019
Quote of the week
“History and experience tell us that progress comes not in comfortable and complacent times but out of trial and confusion.” ~ Past US President, Gerald R Ford,
Fire and Rescue International is your magazine.
Read it, use it and share it!
Tel: 011 452 3135 or Fax: 086 671 0190
Managing director and editor
Cell: 082 371 0190
PA to MD
Design and production department
Pierre du Plessis