WE'RE ONLY HUMAN
Especially in recent years, there has been an emphasis on EMS stress and burnout — much of that emphasis deals with the stress of dealing with traumatic calls, lack of sleep, and the absence of time and risk between calls. Several studies have been conducted that cite “higher levels of depression, stress, and suicide” in both paid and volunteer First Responders.
While there have been several, random supportive efforts to help EMS members during PERSONAL tragedies (i.e.: death of a loved one, friend, or co-worker; or personal losses such as home, income, or personal health), this is not one of the usually coordinated responses in the EMS field. But each day the EMT or Paramedic comes to work, they are leaving family, friends, and home life behind; volunteers also have concerns about their paid jobs as well. Just like our patients, many things can go awry, and support is necessary to help every HUMAN BEING.
So, what is done to support our own HUMAN BEINGS that respond to emergencies? Responses range from simply time off to go to funerals, fundraisers, and general meetings to let other members know of a co-worker’s crisis and possible ways they can help.
David Kryger, owner of Think Leadership (and an experienced First Responder himself) offers these suggestions: 1) Agency leaders should hold a general meeting to let members know what has happened, to squelch rumors, and give a chance for all to process the events. 2) Bring in a trained EAP to offer to counsel as needed. 3) Assign specific (and limited number) of family liaisons to communicate with the member’s family if needed. 4) Make sure your PIO knows what and what NOT to release to the media if the situation goes public. 5) Agency operations must continue, so get someone who can fill in for any missing members ASAP. 6) Be watchful of members in the long term and notice unhealthy reactions. 7) Memorials, services, or recognition, etc. should be timely and respectful of the family’s wishes. 8) Arrange for mutual aid if you find members need to time to process and deal with the trauma. 9) Leaders must be there for their members and never brush off their needs as they may arise.
It is not unusual for individual members to offer support by arranging fund-raising activities to benefit fellow members who need to cover medical bills, and funeral expenses, or to rebuild homes or raise money to take care of surviving children. Normally these fundraisers are well-intentioned and often successful. However, it is a good idea to connect with the member or his/her family to make sure the fundraiser, especially if public, is welcome. Also, rare but still sad to say, the person(s) conducting the fundraiser must be held accountable for all funds raised; possibly by submitting periodic written reports or working with a small group and overseen by agency supervisors.
No human being, including our heroic First Responders, lives in a vacuum where they are immune to personal losses and traumas. Just as we are prepared to respond to strangers in need, we also need to be there, 100 percent, for our brethren and to give full support in every way we can. First Responders are vital to securing our nation’s well-being in a disaster – and agency leaders and fellow members need to help secure the well-being of our brothers and sisters (and their families) in times of need.