“The people will think you have super powers,” my EMT instructor, and Aurora Firefighter of 20 years, Scott Wifall tells us with a grizzled, strong voice. “They’ll run up to you without saying anything, throw you their baby who isn’t breathing, and expect you to save them.” At this point, our EMT class had gone from 30 students, to 23. He looked over the silent class of students with stone faces, all pretending to not be terrified of being in that situation. “Then, after that, you’ll move onto the next call and you aren’t allowed to let what just happened bother you. You have to just move on.” A small smirk appears on his face for a split second, “then you have to go home and its up to you to leave all of that stuff at work.” The next day only 21 students showed up to class.
Firefighters, EMT’s, Paramedics, Nurses… none of these people actually have super powers. They may have a stronger than average stomach, but everyone in the field is simply human. Witnessing horrendous tragedies doesn’t become easier when you don a pair of scrubs, or Firefighter turnout gear. For those of you viewing this website who’ve been in EMS for a while, you probably understand this truth very well… and for those of you thinking of joining, what my EMT instructor said above is something to consider. So the question is, how do we move on? How do we do this day after day? How do we do we make a career out of it?
Published in the Emergency Medicine Journal, a study was performed on Hawaii EMS, testing how prevalent PTSD was among the staff. Out of the 105 surveys returned, 4% of the surveys indicated clinical signs of PTSD, 1% met subclinical criteria for PTSD, 83% had some signs but no clinical diagnosis, and 12% had no symptoms.
In a different survey, which was published by Jems Magazine, “[a] group at Ambulance Service Manager, which consisted of seven individuals from Missouri, Texas, Oregon, Colorado, California and Nevada, created the survey questions. This survey, hosted by SurveyMonkey, was then sent to all employees of each member’s EMS system.” The results of the survey can be seen below.
Suicide Contemplation in EMS vs. General Public
“It doesn’t go away,” Prof. Joanne Andrews tells me, “even if its repressed, something will happen to trigger the memory, and its clear as day again.” Prof. Andrews ran critical incident debriefings for EMS, which are meeting with staff members, and often time a psychologist, after particularly horrific calls. For example, she was a part of the debriefings after the Chucky Cheese massacre. She recalls that during the debriefing, while everyone seemed okay, one responder left to use the restroom – he was later found having a break down in the restroom, having to recall the events he saw.
Overall, however, most responders found incident debriefings to be helpful,
Effectiveness of Formal Support Institutions
With support from peers and management, the rate for suicide contemplation and
Suicide Contemplation and Attempts in EMS Cultures
In addition to witnessing critical events on a frequent basis, other factors that contribute to the overall unhealthy mindset of employees in EMS are:
- Poor diet
- Sleep deprivation
- Feeling underappreciated
- Lack of exercise
- Extended shift hours
- Lack of time off