How do paramedics stay safe at work?

Paramedics at a skateboarding competition in East Vancouver, Sept. 2010.

Paramedics at a skateboarding competition in East Vancouver, Sept. 2010.

I’ve admired paramedics ever since I was a kid in the 70s, watching the old TV show Emergency!

Since then, in real life, I’ve seen paramedics do amazing things, with such kindness and compassion. A while ago, I saw on Facebook that Nicholas Chernen, an old high school friend of mine, was in paramedic school at the Justice Institute of BC.

I wrote to congratulate him on his career choice, and also asked what he is learning about staying safe on the job. Here’s what he told me:

“The first thing we always think about is hazards. Is there anything in/on/around the emergency scene that could cause harm to ourselves or fellow first responders? (We’re no good to anyone if we get injured.)

“Of course we do not want to aggravate a dangerous situation to cause further harm to a patient or other bystanders, meaning that we may have to coordinate with fire and police prior to moving in to do our work.

“Hazards could be weapons, unstable structures, smoke, fire, fumes, water, electricity, uncontrolled crowds etc.

“The other major safety issue is BSI (body substance isolation). We want to protect ourselves from body fluids so we wear gloves, eye protection, masks and gowns sometimes too.

“Any sharp object (needles, lancets, even bandage packaging with corners that could tear a glove) is put into a “sharps” container for safe disposal later.

“There are lots of things to take into consideration when entering an emergency scene, and the cool thing is watching the veterans take it all in so quickly and process it, in order to make their choices about procedures of care.”

I picture these veterans sharing their wealth of knowledge and experience with students, and this increases my admiration even more. It’s amazing to see how they can rush calmly into chaos, dealing with situations that would make some people faint or throw up. It takes a very special person to do this job, and I’m so thankful for each and every person who chooses this career.


6 thoughts on “How do paramedics stay safe at work?

  1. Brad Harbaugh

    Susan – Nice article…I was a big fan of Emergency growing up…happy to see your reference to Squad 51. One thing that jumped out at me was Nicholas saying the first thing they do on the scene is to look at the environment. I think when people are responding to a crisis, they often get tunnel vision and focus on the most desperate aspect of a situation. But taking a second to take in the big picture would allow them to deal more effectively with that situation, while ensuring no further harm was done.

    A good example of this are people stopping to help others on a highway. Good impulse; however, often they create 1 or 2 more hazards in the process.

    I enjoy your blog…keep up the nice work.

  2. Gayle

    I felt really sad hearing the news about those two long-time paramedics. Paramedics seem so undervalued, underpaid and taken for granted in our society it seems to me. I just came back from Surrey Memorial Hospital Emergency because of a situation with my elderly father and any medical professional who works in direct patient care deserves nothing but admiration.

  3. Robert P.

    It is gratifying to see the Paramedics awarded for their services in this community of Richmond, right along with the Firemen, R.C.M.P., Coast Guard, and this past year, the Transit Police. This has become a well-attended community Award-dinner, usually at the River Rock theatre over the past several years. It is great to see the inter-play between these different services, and the joy and appreciation of each as the awardees are honoured on stage from each of these service organizations. One doesn’t truly appreciate what these groups do until revealed in this type of atmosphere, which relates their duties and experiences, good or otherwise.

  4. Del

    Yes, I admire Veteran Paramedics too for their skills and finess demonstrated at most scenes. Alot of us could learn something from watching them in action, but sit down with them after their shift and you’ll see they baggage they carry every day.
    They do get paid well as it is, the only problem is their employer and the way their resoursces are managed.
    Let’s not forget about the dangers at those scenes that we cannot see like the 2 BCAS Paramedics that lost their life walking into a scene that had no Oxygen to breathe and collapsed before knowing what was wrong.
    I would like to recognize those individuals that are tasked for standby like First aid Attendants that are the first responders that receive the least pay, protection or credit. Thank you, keep fighting to make our people and systems better, not just throw money into the pit of greed.


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