May 17, 2022 — It's National EMS Week! Today we are recognizing safety as our topic. The Safety of our EMS responders is as critical as the care they provide. Although we recognize EMS as a dangerous occupation, there are several aspects and factors where we can make improvements in safety.
According to the Emergency Responder Safety Institute, there are roughly 30 fatality collisions involving ambulances and 9 instances a year where EMS personnel are struck by a vehicle resulting in a fatality. Many of these incidents occur when an ambulance is operating on the side of the road at an emergency scene or while the ambulance is going through intersections while using their lights and sirens. When ambulances are operating at an emergency scene, we need the cooperation of other motorists to "slow down and move over", which also requires the same motorists to not be distracted and to recognize the roadway hazard quickly. There are many roadways throughout the county where there are blind corners or where stopping quickly isn't possible when drivers are speeding or distracted. Expect our emergency responders to be around every corner. Also, if you see an emergency vehicle such as a fire engine proceeding through an intersection or entering the roadway, expect an ambulance to be right behind them.
Another safety concern for responders is violence against EMS workers. According the the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians (NAEMT) two in five EMS workers have been injured as a result of being assaulted by a patient. The relative risk of fatal assaults for EMS workers is about three times higher than the national average. The El Dorado County Fire Protection District does not tolerate violence against its members and encourages reporting such instances to local law enforcement. Regardless of a patient's mental state, there is no excuse for violence against EMS workers.
Having adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) was a challenge at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Modifications occurred where our EMTs and Paramedics often reused "single-use" PPE and conditions existed where policies and procedures for safe work practices changed often. Thankfully, we have been able to develop definitive practices and now have plenty of PPE to allow single-use of disposable supplies. We were also fortunate to have specialized equipment such as powered air purifying respirators (PAPRs) prior to the pandemic because the El Dorado County Emergency Services Authority (or "West Slope JPA") had the foresight to acquire them a few years earlier.
Musculoskeletal injuries also continue to be an occupational hazard. EMS workers are often put into positions that require repetitive movement, awkward movement and no time to stretch ahead of time. Because of this, there is an industry focus on reducing lifting and addressing tasks where risks of injury can be reduced. This past year, ambulances were outfitted with LUCAS mechanical chest compression devices that reduce exertion for EMS workers providing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) while also limiting the EMS worker's exposure to body fluids and aerosolized particles. The JPA also purchased Stryker powered loading systems and are awaiting their delivery and installation. These systems assist in loading and unloading the stretcher at the ambulance. This system will reduce lifting and great strains EMS workers encounter while loading and unloading the ambulance. This should result in decreased axial-load and other musculoskeletal injuries.
If we care for the safety of our EMTs and Paramedics they can continue to care for you!