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In the Line of Duty

Every year, public safety agencies EMS, fire and police are forced to deal with a member of their organization dying in the line of duty. For most agencies, the unexpected line-of-duty death (LODD) causes further emotional trauma because there was a lack of preparation to handle such an event. As managers, we tend to rationalize the lack of planning by denying that an LODD could ever happen to one of our own.

Have you as the EMS Manager or Chief Medical Officer prepared your organization to deal with an LODD? In order to be best prepared for this tragedy, the management team must take into account all aspects of an LODD as it relates to the agency and the service area. Consider the following recommendations during your planning process:

On-scene actions during the incident

In the event an employee is killed or seriously injured on scene, the scene must be secured by law enforcement to permit a thorough investigation. No one except proper officials should have access to the area where an employee was killed.

A member of management should be sent to the hospital to coordinate information flow and be a contact person for the agency and family.

If the family members arrive on scene, it s important to identify them and keep them out of the way during emergency operations, particularly if the deceased is still entrapped or at the scene. Some agencies issue a bright orange armband to family members so they re easily identifiable to emergency personnel and discretion can be used in their presence.

If your service doesn t already have a public information officer (PIO), it will be important to establish one. They will handle all media contacts and prepare a statement to the press. No information should be provided to the press until the family has been notified.

Agency notifications

The following list includes people within your EMS system who may need to be notified via a pre-established process:

  • agency manager or chief officer;
  • board members or local elected officials;
  • city/county manager;
  • coroner or medical examiner;
  • local police agency;
  • dispatch center (supervisor);
  • union official (if employees are represented by a labor union);
  • agency chaplain; and
  • local or regional CISM team.

Having a list of people to notify that includes all their contact numbers will make the notification process much easier.

Notification to the family

As discussed in last month s article, the use of an emergency notification card can assist the EMS manager or supervisor in notifying appropriate family members. In almost every case, a member of management should deliver the news in person to the designated family member.

If the employee is seriously injured and the family may not have much time to be with them, you may need to make a judgment to get the family to the hospital in the fastest manner possible. It s advisable to have someone from your agency drive family members to the hospital to ensure their safe arrival.

Family liaison officer

A member of the organization should also be designated as the family liaison officer. This member would be available to the family at all times for the next two weeks and have the following responsibilities:

  • accompany the notification team or supervisor to notify the family;
  • be prepared to provide transportation for the family members;
  • be prepared to assist in the arrangement of childcare, if needed, until other family or friends can be contacted;
  • act as the liaison between the family and your agency;
  • provide on-going assistance and information to the family.

Procedures at the hospital

The officer or member assigned at the hospital will be the point of contact for the agency, family and hospital. They should review with hospital personnel the appropriate procedures and determine an area where family members can wait. If the crewmember was a victim of violent crime or a work-related accident, all clothing and equipment must be collected and protected for review and possible testing. Working with law enforcement, establish a chain of evidence.

The officer will also need to talk with the ED physician to ensure that all appropriate testing is completed. If your EMS agency is a federal, state or local rescue squad or ambulance service, the deceased employee may be eligible for the Public Safety Officers Death Benefit. Crew killed in the line of duty should also have a blood alcohol and carbon monoxide test (if related to fire rescue operations) to meet the toxicology requirements.

Part 2 of this column will discuss how to handle the days and weeks following an LODD.

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