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Home > Topics > Safety
February 01, 2011
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EMS News in Focus
by Arthur Hsieh

Juggling scene safety and patient care

By Arthur Hsieh

Editor's note: In Pittsburgh, a medic seeks dismissal of charges that she interfered with police during an emergency call in which police officers were attempting to use a stun gun on a patient. Editorial Advisor Art Hsieh says at some point, law enforcement may end up trumping medical authority when the scene becomes unsafe.

With limited information in both this and the previous article, it's impossible to say whether the paramedic's actions were justified.

In general, juggling scene safety and the care of the patient can be a balancing act. I'd guess that many, if not most of us, have been in situations that in hindsight turned out to be less safe than we had assumed.

On more than one occasion, I've had the thought of, "Wow, let's not do THAT next time!" These near misses serve as good educational experiences, even if the circumstances were less than desirable.

For this case, it seems clear that law enforcement was already in the process of subduing the patient when the paramedic became involved.

It's vague, however, as to whether EMS was on scene for some time, or whether they had just arrived. Nor is it made clear whether there were any discussions between the medic and the police officer prior to the drawing of the Taser.

There are case reports of serious injury or death associated with the use of Tasers; perhaps the EMS provider felt, in her medical opinion, that there could be adverse effects for this specific patient.

On the other hand, at some point, law enforcement may end up trumping the medical authority if, in their opinion, the scene become unsafe for any or all involved.

Personally, once a police officer unholsters a weapon of any sort, I'm done — whether I agree or disagree with the decision.

I'll end up documenting and filing a complaint later if need be, but if LE assumes responsibility for the patient through the use of force, my personal safety becomes paramount.

Regardless, I hope that a mediated solution comes out of this. EMS and LE work closely together on scenes and have to rely upon each other to perform their jobs effectively.

There's probably some sore feelings about this, but with time they can hopefully be repaired for everyone involved.

About the author

EMS1 Editor in Chief Art Hsieh, MA, NREMT-P currently teaches at the Public Safety Training Center, Santa Rosa Junior College in the Emergency Care Program. In the profession 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 published textbook author, has presented at conferences nationwide, and continues to provide patient care at a rural hospital-based ALS system. Contact Art at Art.Hsieh@ems1.com.
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