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Emergency Medical Services: Facing the New Safety Realities as First Responders

In recent months, we've seen many incidents where fire and EMS personnel have been put in harm's way. We've been shot at, taken hostage, assaulted; we've been involved in explosions and, unfortunately, we've had members who have been killed.

I've talked before about situational awareness; now more than ever, we need to be cognizant of the dangers we face every single day.

Most fire academies and EMT or paramedic classes don't teach us much about these types of incidents. They may address scene safety, but they certainly don't address these types of hostile environments or events. However, there are other resources available outside of fire and EMS that we should pursue to better educate—and hopefully learn to better protect—ourselves.

The Department of Homeland Security offers a variety of classes on responses to bombings, including secondary and tertiary devices, as well as chemical, biological and radiological incidents. Tactical casualty-care classes have also been developed by the military, but they can be transferred to a civilian environment.

Another opportunity is to look to your local law-enforcement agencies. The job of police officers is to enter a hostile scene and attempt to render it safe. They go through countless hours of training and education on how to recognize and respond to these types of situations. From verbal judo to personal defense, maybe it's time we incorporated these same types of classes in our training programs.

Finally, we should look to the professionals in the mental-health world. This is another area that we receive little training on, but it appears to be a common theme in many of our incidents. To understand the problems we encounter, we have to be better educated; these professionals are usually more than willing to help.

Developing this relationship ahead of time can also pay benefits down the road as we may also need them to help our personnel after they've been involved in an incident. We know that critical-incident stress can affect us from just responding to our normal calls—so much more so if we're assaulted or shot at. This is just one more part of the continuum of care we should be providing to help ensure our safety.

We continue to face new challenges, which should cause us to never stop learning. As leaders, we need to understand these risks and hazards. We need to learn how to prepare for and deal with them, and we need to ensure we're doing everything we can to provide for the safety of our personnel. This includes making sure they're trained, educated and equipped to face these new realities.

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