By Todd Bowman
CUMBERLAND, Maryland – The safety of emergency first responders is a topic taught early and repeated often during continued training. As time goes by, firefighters, EMTs and paramedics are being subjected to increasingly volatile incidents. With incidents of violence against emergency service providers on the rise, it is important for providers to remain situational aware and know their safety. Their partners and patients safety can be jeopardized suddenly and possibly without warning.
“Provider safety is a top concern for us,” Allegany County EMS Division Chief Robert Pattison said. “EMS providers and first responders in general should remain aware of their surroundings and work together to assure that everyone leaves the scene safe and uninjured.”
As details continue to pour in about Wednesday’s deadly school shooting in Florida that killed 17 people, special teams responded and acted quickly to rescue and save as many lives as possible.
“My heart goes out to the families that have lost loved ones this week,” Pattison said.
Pattison continued eight of his EMS Division staff completed a weeklong specialized training on Friday to aid law enforcement in incidents, such as the school shooting in Florida and locally, the barricade incident in Little Orleans that injured two state troopers last month.
The 56-hour CONTOMS course (Counter Narcotics and Terrorism Operational Medical Support) was started in 1990 to meet the need for specialized medical training to support law enforcement special operations.
CONTOMS program is aimed offering a nationally standardized curriculum, certification process, and quality improvement procedures to meet the needs of those EMTs, paramedics, and physicians who operate as part of a law enforcement team.
“I am extremely proud and grateful that all eight of our staff completed the course and will be able to aid other agencies if an incident like this should arise,” Pattison said.
The term “scene safety” is not new to EMS providers. Within the first few weeks of basic EMS training, providers are taught that scene safety is a vital part in being able to assess, treat and manage a critically ill patient.
“Scene safety was not taught as we think of it today,” Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute Instructor Diane May said. “I had a textbook that I originally taught with and the only mention of scene safety was in determining if the scene was safe for the patient.”
May is a veteran fire and rescue instructor with over 30 years of EMS education experience in Maryland.
“I can remember going to a conference in the late 80s and hearing a speaker talk about going into a home and having a gun pulled on him,” May said. “There were clues that they should have seen. The door jam was busted and furniture was knocked over, yet because the call came in as chest pain, they never thought twice about it.”
May says that teaching new EMTs to be alert and pay attention to the scene is critical.
“Too often they focus on helping others and they fail to pay attention to the fact that they can’t help anyone if they are injured themselves or they get killed,” May said.
In 2016, there were estimated to be 900,000 full-time, part-time, and volunteer emergency medical service workers in the United States who treat 22 million patients a year.
The Bureau of Labor and Statistics said in 2007 that health care workers have the highest rate of workplace violence compared to all other industries with the majority of violent injuries committed by their patients. Reports show that health care workers have an injury rate of 20.4 per 10,000, which is significantly larger than the general sector rate of 2.1 per 10,000.
In 2012, an estimated 2,400 EMS workers visited U.S. hospital emergency departments to treat an injury resulting from work related violence, according to 2014 EMS Workers Injury and Illness Data, collected by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Providers need to understand that it is not just big cities that experience crime and violence against emergency personnel,” May said. “One person under the influence of a substance or who doesn’t want the patient to get help, or who is looking to injure someone to make a statement…can change the emergency responders life forever.”
Pattison and May agreed that all providers must remain vigilant on all incidents, not just incidents that are dispatched as potentially violent.
“Too often older EMTs get lulled into dropping their guard because it is a nice neighborhood, the call is for a medical concern or (violent incidents) like that just don’t happen here,” May said.
May said that older, seasoned providers are sometimes the hardest group to reach and change their attitudes.
“Education is key and we strive to provide as much education and training as possible to our staff and providers,” Pattison said. “Whether the training is in a formal class setting or at shift change, providers are encouraged to share any new safety concerns or information with their co-workers.”
Photo: Allegany County Division of Emergency Services Emergency Medical Technician Charity Collins is pictured during recent CONTOMS training. Collins is one of eight providers from Allegany County that attended the weeklong education aimed at assisting law enforcement operations.
Todd Bowman is a senior staff writer for Shock-Advised.com. Follow him on Twitter @TheBowmanByline for up-to-the-minute, breaking news and personal interest stories related to today’s public safety workers.