For those who are just entering the wonderful world of EMS, scene safety is a top priority during the course of a career. For us "old-timers," scene safety can lengthen our careers and help us make it to retirement.
Following are 10 scene safety tips that can help protect us and, at the same time, adhere to department guidelines.
1. Be aware of your surroundings at all times: Understand that when you arrive on scene there may be various things going on that could compromise your safety and the safety of your partner. Scene overview should be the first thing that comes to mind. This overview begins the moment the run comes in. Weather conditions, road conditions, road construction and traffic flows are some of the things to consider when responding to any run.
2. Pay strict attention to hazardous scenes: Whether you are on an auto accident scene, fire scene or some other traumatic scene, you need to be aware of everything around you.
Downed power lines, fuel leaks, hazardous material leaks, building collapses or industrial facilities are a few areas where you need to pay strict attention to the scene. Watch for things that may pose a risk to you, your partner and your patient and identify ways to make a rapid egress should you need to escape quickly.
3. Take appropriate measures on violent scenes: When responding to any scene where violence is transpiring, take appropriate measures that allow you to sit at a distance until the police arrive on scene and properly secure it. Don't try to be the hero! Stay at a safe distance where you are out of sight until police properly clear the scene and signal a safe return. Running into a known violent or drug overdose scene without police security could cost you and your partner your lives. Never, ever follow a police car into a scene. If the authorities need to draw their weapons, you don't want to be in the line of fire!
4. Wear safety gear and equipment: There is no excuse for not wearing your issued safety gear. Safety vests, EMS turnout gear, helmets, gloves, goggles and other safety equipment are designed for your protection. Never take these items for granted. They are designed to reduce injuries and limit or stop exposures to blood borne pathogens and chemical exposures. By wearing your gear, you can also prevent transmission of diseases and exposures of hazardous materials to yourself and your loved ones.
5. Always operate your vehicle in a safe manner: There is never any excuse to drive in a manner that brings danger to yourself, your partner, your patient and the general public.
It is already hazardous operating ANY emergency vehicle during the course of a shift, and by driving in a manner that is less than safe is detrimental to your health as well as others around you. Operate your vehicle with due caution during wet, foggy or snowy conditions. Always pay attention to the weather and road conditions. Avoiding sudden take offs and stops during inclement weather may prevent an unwanted accident. No matter how lousy the road conditions, take your time and get to your destination in one piece. Remember, it's their emergency, not ours!
Placement of your ambulance at hazardous scenes, such as auto accidents, is paramount. Place it in a manner that allows you rapid access. We generally park at least 200 feet in front of an accident scene on the shoulder at an angle. This places us well in front of the scene and adds a buffer between us and the accident. Remember, we are the most important people on the scene, and without us, our patients can't receive the high-quality care they need. Never, EVER turn your back on traffic! If you need to step back to your vehicle, walk backwards. This allows you to remain watchful of other vehicles and just may save your life.
6. Conduct a pre-shift vehicle checkout: I know, I know, this part sucks, right? While most of us hate checking the oil, looking at the tires, checking the siren, and making sure all the lights work seems mundane. However, there are reasons management makes us do pre-shift vehicle checks. Those reasons are safety. By physically doing a pre-shift vehicle check, you get to know your rig. You can ensure it is in safe, working order and you can accommodate for repairs should something become inoperable.
7. Put the cell phone away: Using a cell phone while you operate an ambulance is dangerous, and it may be against the law depending on where you live. Regardless, it's dangerous! That text or conversation with John or Sally can wait until you complete your call. There are already enough distractions going on inside the ambulance. Your partner, your patient and your own life aren't worth the risk or litigation you could face if you have an accident while texting or talking on your cell phone.
8. Ask for help when backing up your rig: Whether you are backing into quarters or out of a parking spot, use your partner and your emergency lights even if your rig is equipped with a backing camera. Emergency lights signal to others around you that you are backing up. And your partner can signal traffic and give directional hand signals. Remember, this can be a safety issue, and we all want to go home injury free and lawsuit free at the end of our shifts.
9. Prevent lifting injuries: Oh, my aching back! How many times do you or your partner complain about back pain? Squat and use proper body mechanics to give you a shot at a long career. Lift with your legs, never your back. Bending to lift a patient who is strapped to your backboard or one who is on your pole stretcher can tear muscles in your lower back, which could cause a lifetime of pain and misery and may prevent you from doing your job.
Take a few moments before the beginning of your shift to do a few stretches. This allows muscles to loosen up and prepare them for your shift's physical abuse. If you are on a scene that requires you to carry your equipment a fair distance, load it onto the stretcher. Work smarter, not harder!
10. Eliminate drug and alcohol use while on duty: Many of us like to blow it up on our off days. I for one enjoy having some cold Guinness now and again with friends, but I refuse to come into work intoxicated.
It is intolerable by any employer to arrive at work intoxicated or high. It should be intolerable to you as well! We are trained, licensed professionals and should keep that appearance at all times while off duty or on duty. Smoking a "fatty" or downing a 40 before you come into work are not ways to help you get through your shift in a safe manner. You put everyone at risk by using drugs or alcohol while on duty and it may cost you your job and your freedom. If you or your partner has a drug or alcohol problem, seek counseling immediately. If you cannot control your substance abuse issue, then perhaps the medical field is not the place for you.
If you take prescribed medications that may impair your judgment, decision making ability or your ability to drive, contact your employer and advise them of the situation. It could mean the difference between life and death...yours, your partner's, your patients' and the general public's!
Safety is our No. 1 job. We are all responsible for our personal actions while we are on duty and the number one responsibility is our personal safety. Remembering these safety tips will help us all get home safe and sound to our loved ones at the end of our respective shifts.
Eric Liddy, Sr. is an EMT-medic with the City of Detroit Fire Department EMS Division, Medic 9, Nights 1 Crew, 7th Battalion. He also has served with the Berlin Orange Fire Department, senior firefighter/EMT; the Ionia County Hazardous Response Team, hazardous materials technician and the Ionia County Sheriff's Department, special deputy rescue and recovery diver. He is the author of The E.R. Loading Dock; Real Life EMS Stories From Around the World. He can be reached at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.