EMS Insider, Expert Advice

The Thin Blue Line

Yes, I’m going to talk about law enforcement in an EMS article. The “thin blue line” is a term that we’ve become accustomed to as being representative of our professional counterparts in law enforcement.

Over the past few years, a number of events have led to accusations about law enforcement profiling, brutality, prejudice, corruption and murder. We know that there are “bad cops” who give law enforcement a bad name, and that 99% are good cops trying to do their job. We in EMS are not immune to the same stigma, and we are fortunate that we have the same percentage of people who are doing the right thing. Sometimes though, law enforcement officers doing their job is perceived in a negative light, and has resulted in demonstrations, protests and even riots in cities across the country. As a result, we have seen deadly attacks against law enforcement rise. In addition, there have been attacks on public gatherings in which law enforcement officers were injured or killed during the response, and unfortunately, there is no end in sight.

My concern is that there have been a number of sources lately reminding those who would harm law enforcement officers that EMS and fire personnel are part of the government too. This association is a direct threat to our people, and it increases the risk inherent in doing our jobs. So, how do we address this?

Risk management is a difficult issue. While we would like to eliminate all risk, we know that is not feasible so we have to take steps to mitigate and minimize risk as best we can. I’ve written in this column before about the need to protect our personnel by issuing them ballistic vests as part of their standard assigned equipment, but based on the current environment, we need to implement additional tasks to minimize our risk and maximize our effectiveness.

First, we need to establish close relationships with our brothers and sisters in law enforcement. From the patrol officer all the way up to the chief or sheriff, EMS and fire personnel need to be talking to the law enforcement officers and command staff at their level. We need to understand where they are at, what their concerns are and what, if anything, we can do to help. Trying to establish that relationship while on an active scene is impossible; it is always better to see a familiar face walking up in the heat of the moment.

Second, we need to train more closely with law enforcement. The active killer/immediate threat has helped us make progress with this, but there is still more to do. Many officers now carry their own survival kits that include a tourniquet, dressing/bandage and a clotting agent, and we can help them out by conducting initial or refresher training for these items. We can educate them on our capabilities in treating wounded patients, why we do what we do in mass casualty incidents, and appropriate hospital destinations and level of care. They, in turn, can teach us about their procedures and policies, what their expectations are of us when we arrive and how to manage the incident while minimizing disturbance to a potential crime scene. Training also helps with the first point of establishing a relationship.

Finally, we need to let them know that we are there for them. They need to know that they are not in this alone, and we certainly know that there are times when we need them. Public safety is made up of unique individuals who, for whatever reason, have made the decision to give up a normal life in order to help others. It isn’t for the fame, it isn’t for glamor and it certainly isn’t for the money. Each person has their own reason for joining the profession, and I’m sure there are a number of public safety professionals who, right now, are asking “Why did I decide to do this?” We need to support each other during the calm and the crises, for only we truly understand what public safety is all about.

We are all in this together, and I believe that it will eventually get better. In the meantime, the line needs to be reinforced with EMS and fire on each side, and our friends and family in law enforcement need to know that we are here to help widen their thin blue line.