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EMS News in Focus
by Arthur Hsieh

Enact the Boy Scout motto

By Arthur Hsieh

Editor's note: As Pittsburgh officials prepare for a winter response plan to avoid a repeat of February's snow death, Editorial Advisor Art Hsieh says this is a good opportunity for your agency to prepare for the wintery months ahead.

The change back standard time in most of the U.S. is another reminder that many EMS systems will be battling the effects of weather.

Last year in Pittsburgh, severe snow, cold and a public safety system that faced the challenge of responding to calls for help combined to form a "perfect storm" that may have contributed to a man's death.

As is often the case, such "mini-disasters" often are the impetus for changes to the response system, such as what is being reported here.

For the rest of us who dodge the bullet, let's learn from this incident and remind ourselves that we too must be ready to face the elements of harsh winter weather. There are simple steps to take that may very well make the difference in your ability to respond successfully in hazardous weather:

1) Be Prepared. As with the Boy Scout motto, being prepared is totally based in pre-event preparation. Are response vehicles prepared with the right equipment? Do you have appropriate foul weather gear? Are medications and other medical equipment kept at the right temperature? Is the station's power generator for heat and light ready as well?

2) Coordinate with public works. In many jurisdictions, there is an organized plan to remove snow from primary roadways first, followed by smaller, secondary roads. Your station may be only two blocks from the primary, but in a major snowfall it might as well be a mile. Ensure that you have access to road routes that have the greatest likelihood of staying open during inclement weather.

3) Be ready to shelter in place. When the oncoming crew is unable to make it to the station because of weather, you will have no choice but to remain on duty. It becomes a bit more tolerable to do so if you have simple things like an extra change of clothes, toiletry kit, water and snacks on hand. Child care may become an issue if you are unable to leave work; communicate with friends, family and neighbors to make sure there is a plan in place to take care of your kids in case you are delayed.

4) Review disaster protocols. Follow policies that may modify normal work routines in case of severe weather. For example, hospital destination guidelines may be altered if transport times significantly increase during bad weather.

I'm sure there are many more ideas, and I'd love to hear them. Share them below in the member comments so we can all learn! Above all, stay safe during these wintry months.

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. Contact Art at
The comments below are member-generated and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of or its staff. If you cannot see comments, try disabling privacy and ad blocking plugins in your browser. All comments must comply with our Member Commenting Policy.

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