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EMS News in Focus
by Arthur Hsieh

Emotional care for first responders

By Arthur Hsieh

A recent report examines the emotional strains put on emergency responders who treated victims of the Joplin, Mo., tornado this year. The report highlights how little attention is paid to the risk of traumatic stress faced by medics, nurses, police and firefighters.

Most of us are initially attracted to this job by the excitement and fast pace of the job and — most importantly — by the desire to help people.

Over time, we come to realize that much of what we do centers on the mundane, and focuses more on emotional and social care rather than emergent medical interventions. Still, many of us stay in the job for a long time because of the service we provide to our communities.

Maybe once in a career we are requested to rise above even the most significant medical call — in the case of the Joplin tornado, a major natural disaster.

We go into the situation ready to help out and pitch in feverishly, almost impatiently. It slowly dawns that these types of rescues are not sprints, but marathons.

"Response" becomes relative – instead of minutes, hours, or even days, time is measured in weeks, months, and years. And, as anyone who has ever been involved at this level can state, the simplest acts of kindness become heroic.

This article provides some poignant moments for EMS personnel engaged in recovery efforts in Joplin, Missouri. It highlights the need to stay "real" during these long haul incidents.

The helper mentality is the platform for which we give much of ourselves. It is as important to recognize that, often, we can give it our all, without a chance to recharge.

Cumulative stress can be a major wear and tear on our bodies and minds. That's why down time is important in these cases.

Whether a rescuer wants it or not, time "off the line" is absolutely necessary.

Having access to trained, empathetic folks to talk about our experiences is also helpful, though not necessary for all individuals. Staying hydrated and fed, and minimizing the chances of physical injury are musts.

I know our hearts go out to the folks affected by these type of catastrophes. It's comforting to know that our fellow EMS providers are also being taken care of while they give it their all to the community.


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
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