EMS Under Fire?

First off, I’d like to give a greeting to all of you.  I’ve been absent from blogging for quite a few months now.  I spent much of last year working in New Jersey as part of a team managing waterway debris removal as the result of Hurricane Sandy.  It was a great experience and often challenging – but I had an opportunity to work with some outstanding people and do some good for the people of New Jersey.  I’m sure in future posts I’ll reflect on some lessons learned from that assignment. 

Since my return I’ve been spending time with family and getting my own business back up and running.  I’ve also re-started the pursuit of my graduate degree.  With all the writing I’ve been doing, I’ve found it challenging to get back into blogging, but have thought about it often.

Earlier this evening I had some inspiration in reading the most recent (January/February 2014) edition of Emergency Management Magazine, in which Jim McKay’s Point of View article (which I could not locate online) spoke about ‘Medics entering the warm zone’ during mass shootings.  This is a topic I’ve had some mixed feelings over for the last couple of months. 

While I understand the urgency to enter the area and save lives – which is the main goal of public safety – we’ve always been taught to do so SAFELY.  This new concept of EMS personnel entering a non-secure active shooter environment is in serious conflict with what we’ve been taught about responder safety.  Are we being too hasty? 

Most times I’ve seen this new concept referenced, it is noted that the medics are outfitted with ballistic vests and helmets and escorted by law enforcement.  A great idea – but is this equipment being made readily available to EMS?  Not to the folks I’ve been speaking to.  Most law enforcement don’t regularly travel with riot gear, aside from their ballistic vests which they usually wear when on duty.  Additionally, are there law enforcement resources available to escort medics so early on in a mass shooting incident?  Often times not.  It seems this concept is not well thought out. 

What about training?  Tactical medic classes have been available for the last few decades, but most medics are not trained as such.  I’ve heard of no movement in EMS training to include information on how to make entry into an unsecured shooting incident, or in law enforcement training regarding providing escort duty to unarmed EMS personnel.  In fact one of the only ‘doctrinal’ references comes from the US Fire Administration, although it doesn’t provide much information.  This entire concept, to be effective, efficient, and safe needs to be prepared for – planning, training, and exercises. 

I’m not alone among my EMS colleagues having experienced looking down the barrel of a shotgun when responding to a call.  It must be considered that responding to an active shooter is NOT that.  It’s much more serious.  I understand that this idea can save lives – but what happens when the first medic loses their life after making entry?  Let’s start with that thought in crafting this new approach.  A dead responder can’t save any lives. 

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