Why EMS providers wait for cops before entering 'hot scenes'

An injured responder becomes a liability on scene, requiring more resources for treatment and transport and delaying treatment to the initial patient

When I first started in the business, a veteran EMS provider told me that if it weren't for alcohol, tobacco and drugs that most of us would be out of a job.

I still believe that to this day — consider all of the respiratory and cardiac diseases that we see and all of the issues with "street" calls related to the trafficking of illicit drugs. Violence is one such outcome; for decades, EMS crews have waited for law enforcement officers to gain control of the scene before beginning treatment.

It's a bit aggravating when stories, such as this one from San Bernardino, imply fire and EMS responders choose to "wait" to take care of their patients. Most EMS systems have operational protocols that prohibit responders from entering “hot scenes,” where the risk of injury is higher than acceptable. Unlike the past where first responders were considered to be the "good guys," more civilians are not as trusting as they once were.

As a result, the danger to self and others is significant. Once injured, responders become a liability on scene — law enforcement has others to protect, more resources are needed to treat and transport and the care to the patient may be delayed as a result.

I'm also insulted by the implication that somehow the age of the patient is reason enough to take unnecessary risk. Harsh as it may sound, it doesn't matter. As part of the health safety net, we provide care to patients regardless of age, color, sex or socioeconomic status. We don't choose who we respond to — they call, we haul and that's all.

Here's one more miserable implication: while the EMS responders are taking flack for not running into a dangerous situation, there seems to be little attention paid to the assailant who fired the shot that killed the patient. Reporting like this skews public perception and causes unnecessary questions and criticism for the community's public safety agencies, which in turn can potentially worsen the safety profile of any future scenes.

I'm not sure how enlightening that is for a news story; it certainly doesn't help those who are just trying to do their jobs.

About the author

EMS1 Editorial Advisor Art Hsieh, MA, NREMT-P currently teaches at the Public Safety Training Center, Santa Rosa Junior College in the Emergency Care Program. Since 1982, Art has worked as a line medic and chief officer in the private, third service and fire-based EMS. He has directed both primary and EMS continuing education programs. Art is a textbook author, has presented at conferences nationwide, and continues to provide patient care at an EMS service in Northern California. Art is a member of the EMS1 Editorial Advisory Board. Contact Art at Art.Hsieh@ems1.com.

  1. Tags
  2. EMS Management
  3. Fire-EMS
  4. Patient Care
  5. Patient Handling
  6. Police
  7. Scene Safety
  8. Violence

Recommended Arthur Hsieh

Join the discussion

logo for print