NAEMSP Presents Discussion on First Responder Resiliency

Col. Chetan Kharod, MD, MPH, program director of the Military EMS and Disaster Medicine Fellowship in San Antonio, gave a powerful presentation at the National Association of EMS Physicians (NAEMSP) annual meeting on Wednesday, discussing one of the most important issues in emergency services: How to organizationally approach individual resiliency using a proven method developed by U.S. Special Operations Command for its elite forces.      

He stressed that we in EMS, like the military, must concentration on “pre-hab” not just rehab, and be conscious of all factors involved in stress and its impact on personnel. He noted that it takes an average of 28 days for a military shooter to come to grips with his/her emotions after a tough assignment, so it is not unusual for an EMS provider to be withdrawn from family or friends for some time after a bad incident. He added that people unwind in many ways.

Col. Kharod, first responder resiliency

Col. Kharod addresses the crowd at the NAEMSP annual meeting in New Orleans. Photo A.J. Heightman

Kharod spoke about “GZ,” an American hero who was severely wounded in Afghanistan and survived, only to come home and get lost in the maze of medicine until the military resiliency unit stepped in and helped guide him back to mental health and wellness.

He detailed some of the key components of resiliency programs in Texas:

1) Strength and Honor in Everyday Lawful Decisions (SHIELD): A group that assists law enforcement officers in coping with stress and suicidal feelings, and helps them remain strong and resilient.

2) Performance Optimization with Enhanced Resiliency (POWER): A program Kharod founded while he was associate medical director for the San Antonio Fire Department that helps employees deal with the inherent stress of the job.

Kharod also shared that Cypress Creek EMS has partnered with Memorial Hermann Hospital’s IRONMAN Sports Medicine Institute for a program on physical resiliency.

Citing the need for responders to learn how to relax, Kharod had the audience perform a breathing exercise called the Box Breathing Technique, or Four-Square Breathing. He then outlined multiple areas that must be addressed in order to improve first responder resiliency:

  • Preservation of the force and family
  • Physical resiliency
  • Psychological resiliency
  • Wellness
  • Sleep (and sleep deprivation)
  • Exercise
  • Normalization of the topic

He pointed out that EMS providers must get support and involvement from the private sector and academia as it develops resiliency programs. One resource he suggested is Safe Call Now, a hotline for public safety employees to speak confidentially with public safety professionals and/or mental healthcare providers who are familiar with our line of work. The hotline number is (206) 459-3020.