Back when I was in the Boy Scouts, we had a motto: Be prepared. A simple statement, which to us meant that for any situation, we should be ready, organized and equipped to handle all circumstances in the best possible way. This approach and the basic first aid I learned in the Scouts provided a strong foundation for my later career as an EMT and a paramedic. In addition to my personal belief in this motto, I also believe that it s a good philosophy for EMS organizations to follow.
Every day brings about a new issue, challenge or threat that involves EMS. As an individual or agency, are you prepared to meet those challenges? Are you trained to the necessary level, and are you properly equipped to handle the situation in a safe and efficient way? If called on to perform a certain task, can you accomplish it? Have you considered what it would entail, and are you ready to handle the ensuing events? Here s a quick checklist of some incidents to see if you re well equipped, or if you need to consider taking actions to become prepared.
Mass casualty incident: One of the most common events for EMS agencies is when multiple patients are injured in some kind of accident. However, most ambulances are usually able to care for only two to four patients. In the event that your agency needs more equipment than is normally carried, have you prepared a medical cache that could be quickly delivered to the scene? Have you been trained on procedures to move multiple patients to the appropriate hospitals? Do you have the organizational structure to manage this kind of incident?
Mass fatality incident: If your agency responded to a mass fatality call, how prepared would your providers be to handle the incident? What role would you play in the recovery or in dealing with the family members of the deceased? What effect would this have on your agency and its ability to provide routine emergency services?
Chemical or biohazard event: Has your agency trained and equipped itself to handle patients who may have been exposed to a chemical or biohazard? Do the ambulance personnel have the proper protective equipment, and can the ambulance be draped inside to avoid contamination? A community risk analysis on what could occur in your area should be the starting point for your preparation.
Weapons of mass destruction: At present, we re fortunate that in our society blast injuries on the streets aren t an everyday occurrence, as they are elsewhere in the world. But that s not to say that the possibility for such an event doesn t exist in the near future. Some basic guidelines and training should be reviewed with all emergency personnel on an annual basis.
Multiple burn patients: Most agencies stock their ambulances to treat one or two burn patients. Imagine responding to a scene where the number of burn patients was double or triple the number your ambulances could respond to in a timely manner? How would you operate at an incident of this severity? Such calls may be rare for your area but should be on your radar screen as a potential incident.
Extended-period incident that lasts for several days: In many cases, an incident that extends past the work period of 12 hours will overextend the agency s resources. If it appears at the onset that you may be involved in delivering on-scene emergency care for more than 24 hours, what contingency plans have you made regarding replacement personnel and equipment?
Special event/mass gathering: Most special events usually allow time for planning an appropriate response to the occasion. Develop incident action plans to outline the duties and responsibilities of your personnel and to provide clear direction on the objectives to successfully mitigate any problems.
Employee death: The death of a coworker will have a considerable impact on any EMS agency. Do you have support systems in place for the family and coworkers to deal with the bereavement process?
Line-of-duty death: An even greater impact on an agency than the death of a coworker is that of one killed in the line of duty. When an EMS provider dies during duty, the emotional response is increased for the coworkers and family. Is your agency prepared to assist the family before and after the funeral? Are you prepared to help coworkers during and after the event? What s the impact on the community?
Raising employee awareness and preparing well in advance will improve the success of dealing with unusual or extraordinary incidents. A training class to discuss such incidents would help in the development of a pre-plan for what actions to take during an event at a particular venue or scenario. Also, consider what equipment or further training would be needed to effectively handle the incident.
To be prepared means being ready for the expected and the unexpected. You and your agency must be ready at all times for events that are likely to occur in your area and for those events that you didn t expect but were called on for response.