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Home > Topics > Safety
March 01, 2012
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EMS Safety Net
by Jim Love

'Too drunk to fly': When would you speak up?

Let's look at several at-risk behaviors that may put you and other innocent people including patients at risk

By Jim Love

On February 16, a Frontier Airline pilot was escorted off his plane by four police officers moments before the scheduled takeoff. The pilot was allegedly inebriated and called "too drunk to fly."

He was reported to the airline by the hotel shuttle bus driver. As someone who flies a lot, I appreciate the commitment this driver made to protect us all, for speaking up.

We have all been on hotel airport shuttle busses. Ask yourself, what would you have done if you had been on this shuttle? Would you have reported the pilot? Would you assume someone else would spot it and report it?

I don't want to be flown by a pilot who is legally drunk, exhibiting a known at-risk behavior, possibly endangering my life.  I have the right to expect to be flown by a sober, competent pilot.

Let's put this in EMS terms and look at several at-risk behaviors that may put you and other innocent people including patients at risk.  These behaviors include:

• Lifting incorrectly, risking low back injury, injury to partner and possibly dropping the patient.
• Proceeding through a red light at a busy intersection without stopping and clearing each lane.
• DWE: driving while exhausted for whatever reason.
• Not taking proper precautions such as wearing gloves, goggles and other protection.
• Not confirming tube placement.
• A partner clearly under the influence as the pilot described above.

If you were the partner in any of these situations, and the odds are very real you have, what would you do? Would you say something? Who would you talk to?

Would you talk to your partner or a supervisor/manager? Would you perhaps call the medical director? Is there ever a time when it would be OK to refuse to run a call?

Years ago I had the opportunity to take a driver instructor class unlike any I had every taken before.  The instructors were former FAA investigators.  They approached driver training and safety from a completely different direction.

The focus of their program was all about such questions as posed above, your decisions to those questions and communication skills.

During class, they told of an investigation they conducted after a passenger plane taxied off the end of a runway into the water beyond.  When asked, the copilot acknowledged that in fact he saw the water, that he did not say anything to the pilot.

When asked why he remained silent, the copilot stated he assumed the pilot had to see the ocean directly in front of him — how could he not?  It's easy to assume someone else will address the issue that it need not fall on you.

Why else might someone not say something? Other reasons identified included being afraid of confrontation and a fear of retribution.  What if the person who runs the red light gets suspended or in some other way disciplined? Are you ready to take the heat?

In its simplest explanation, it's just easier to look the other way — less paperwork, less anxiety. No confrontation.

But what about those times when there is a crash, a patient drop, a back injury or a case of TB. How will you feel if you knew and failed to say something? How will you feel if there is a fatal collision and you did not do the right thing? What if this hotel shuttle driver did not say anything — remember, the pilot made it all the way to the plane.

About the author

Jim Love began his EMS career in 1974. Since that time he has worked providing direct patient care, has been an FTO and has been an EMT instructor. He transitioned to management and has held many positions over the years including operations, later focusing on training, safety and risk management. He was the National Director of Safety and Risk for AMR. Jim has enjoyed consulting on EMS safety. Jim is currently the Program Manager for the ACETECH (A Ferno Group Company) family of products. He maintains an EMS Safety site and blog, Emsafety.net, and can be contacted at drjlove007@gmail.com.
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