Being an EMS provider involves the entire family, even if they never go near an ambulance. The hours, the stress, and the generally low rate of pay affects the entire household.
Holiday get-togethers are iffy; there are no “closed for the holidays” in emergency response. Paid responders may be fortunate enough to have advance scheduling to plan around; volunteers may just sit down to dinner in time to hear the pager. Since EMS, like other emergency services, operate 24/7 and often have rotating schedules, it’s hard to keep family commitments. This is certainly hard on spouses, but when there are children involved, it’s often hard for little ones to understand. When it is a paid position there is at least salary and possibly benefits to bring home; when it is volunteer there is the added juggling of time between real jobs, family and volunteer commitment.
And just like every other emergency responder position, there are risks. EMS does experience fatalities — ambulance crashes, violence at a call, heart attacks after extreme exertion, and more. Family members often sit at home worrying about their loved one’s safety. Most non-fatal injuries include sprains/strains, bad backs, and hand injuries. PPE is necessary to protect the provider, their patients, and the family members they (hopefully) go back home to. Sometimes a provider comes in contact with a communicable disease and has to undergo prophylactic treatment to ensure their safety and their family’s safety.
The things that EMS responders see, sometimes the very worst moments of another human’s life, can haunt them for days and years to come. It helps when a spouse or significant other can understand and encourages their EMT/Paramedic to seek CISD or other counseling when needed. Children don’t always understand why mommy or daddy is morose and can innocently push her/him too far; someone snaps and feelings are hurt. Divorce rates are also relatively high in EMS. There is also a high rate of suicides from stress.
The job is so necessary for everyone and many times the EMS responder loves what he or she is doing. So how can we avoid the downfalls and negative effects on family life? The key word is balance. The EMS responder has to recognize all of the roles she/he has and what is MOST IMPORTANT to each role. Instead of trying to do it all, the responder should prioritize his schedule instead of letting his schedule wear him out.
What is the BEST way to be a good spouse, parent, EMT/Paramedic, family member, etc? Obviously showing up to work or volunteer shifts is important, but what can be done to improve that? It might be taking classes or attending drills. As a parent, what are the most important occasions to be with your child(ren) and if those can be scheduled as time off, take advantage; and if you miss some of those special events then make the next time you’re together special. And don’t forget to honor your spouse or significant other by letting him/her know you appreciate them; plan a regular date night and enjoy each other’s company.
EMS agencies (paid and volunteer) can help the EMS families by recognizing the sacrifices each makes to enable their responder to give his best. Planning events like summer family picnics and holiday family get-togethers will also allow extended families to meet each other and hare their common experience and hopefully form friendships. When the family feels appreciated it is easier for them to give support to the EMS worker in their household. Children will enjoy the comradery of other youngsters and won’t feel as isolated when their parent is out of duty.