It's time to stand up to abuse and assault on the job

Being assaulted may be part of the job for EMS providers, but it must not be tolerated or condoned by employers, leaders and peers

Being assaulted on the job as an EMS provider is fairly common. When I asked a few of my colleagues whether they had ever been physically assaulted while working, about one third said yes. When I ask if they had ever been verbally threatened or abused by patients or bystanders, the response was nearly 100 percent.

Working in a hazardous environment is indeed part of the EMS world. With absolutely no disrespect to my fellow firefighters and law enforcement officers, I believe that EMS providers deal with daily and a greater frequency of potentially harmful situations.

And I don’t believe this to be a recent phenomenon. I think that the general public is simply becoming more aware of the challenges we face and have faced for a long time.

This recent study, "Expecting the Unexpected: A Mixed Methods Study of Violence to EMS Responders in an Urban Fire Department," affirms the level of violence that exists in the EMS workplace. It’s very clear that as an industry, we are poorly trained to identify, defuse and defend ourselves when patients become combatants.

Most of us spend countless of hours learning about the intricacies of the human body, its functions and what to do when it goes wrong. Yet most providers receive less than a couple of hours learning about scene safety, escaping violent encounters and how to deal with hostile situations.

One unspoken issue that this study alluded to was the mental capability of the providers themselves to manage stress. A lack of sleep, repetitive calls, low pay, and occupational second class citizenship can combine to create a mental state that makes it easier for the provider to snap back at a verbal insult and escalate the situation to the point where a physical altercation breaks out.

Recognizing that there is a problem is a good first step. But recognition is useless unless something comes of it.

Being assaulted may be part of the job, but it must not be tolerated or condoned by senseless remarks of get over it. An agency that values its EMS personnel will try to protect them from harm — any kind of harm.

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