It’s 12:30 a.m. and you’re on your third call of the night. Your scene lights aren’t doing much to show the motor vehicle crash you’re faced with. You know there’s at least one seriously injured patient, and you’re getting your resources together as quickly as you can. As you’re deciding whether you need an additional unit, you see a lone figure jogging from the side of the road onto your scene with a camera around her neck.
WHAT DO YOU DO?
- Tell her to get off your scene—you don’t have the time to deal with her.
- Leave her alone, she’s there at her own risk.
- Tell her anything she wants to know.
As an EMT or paramedic on a busy scene, this is the last thing you need, but much like anything else that comes up, you need to be prepared to deal with the press. With a few pointers, you can learn how to handle members of the press with the ease and poise of a genuine public relations representative.
1. BE POLITE
Yes, you’re tired and it’s your third call of the night. You’re there to treat everyone with respect, and you need to acknowledge the reporter has a job to do too. They’re there to inform the public, and that doesn’t have to conflict with what you’re there to do.
2. KNOW YOUR POLICIES
Many EMS agencies have a policy in place regarding dealing with the press. Oftentimes, it involves the phrase: “Refer any requests for comment to the EMS director,” or something similar. If this is the case, stand firm to the policy, but if it’s not the case, you can easily improve the situation with some direction and control.
3. KEEP YOUR PRIORITIES STRAIGHT
Nothing comes before your safety, the safety of your fellow rescuers, and the well-being of your patient. That being said, consider allowing the reporter access with certain limitations. Many reporters have worked with emergency personnel before, and they’re well-accustomed to staying out of the “line of fire,” so to speak. Possible options include allowing them to take photos from the side of the road or giving them a place to stand. Be firm and maintain control, but allowing them some space to do their job will prevent them from crossing the boundaries.
4. TELL THEM WHAT YOU CAN
If your policies allow it, give them what information you can without compromising your patient’s privacy or your well-being. In many cases, once a reporter has one good photo and enough information for a basic cutline, they’ll happily be on their way. Although giving your patient’s name or date of birth is frowned upon, it’s reasonable in most cases to offer something as simple as, “a male in his fifties struck a tree when his car slid, we’re working on stabilizing him and getting him to the hospital.”
5. BUILD RELATIONSHIPS
Just like the firefighters, police officers and tow truck driver who likes his coffee black, you’ll likely encounter the same reporters on scenes. Building trust means a lot, because they’ll respect you enough to stay out of your way and you’ll eventually be able to trust them to do just that. They’ll learn what you expect from them, and be more effective in getting what they need and getting out.
Remember that it’s essential for everyone on scene to work together, and that everybody’s role is different. Becoming better and more confident in directing the press will ease the stress that comes when “another one of those reporters” shows up. Think of it as an opportunity to show EMS in a positive light and a benefit to the profession as a whole.