When moments count, Americans count on Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT’s) and paramedics. Both of these jobs require balancing a skill with risk. Often called to the scenes of accidents, fights, and disasters, EMT’s and paramedics answer the call of duty whenever they are called.
This dedication to duty saves millions of lives, even though it often puts the health of the EMT at risk. In 2013 alone, EMT’s treated 22 million patients across America. But, the cost was high. From 2003 to 2007, EMT’s suffered 21,690 non-fatal injuries or illnesses as a result of their efforts.
These statistics highlight the fact that these are among the most dangerous professions in the nation. In 2007, EMT’s suffered 350 days away from work per 10,000 workers. For comparison, the average for all occupations that year was 122 per 10,000 workers. At greatest risk are female EMT’s and paramedics who accounted for 45% of injuries even though only 27% of all EMT’s and paramedics are female.
Dangers Faced by EMT’s and Paramedics
- Chemical/Fuel Exposure. Accident and fire scenes are toxic places. Fuel and other chemicals seeping from damaged autos and smoldering fires can cause chemical burns and cause damage to the respiratory system.
- Violence. Not everyone visited by an EMT or paramedic wants to be treated. Many times patients can become aggressive and take their anger out on the emergency personnel treating them. In October 2015, Alfredo Rojas and Kelly Adams, both Detroit EMT’s, were attacked and seriously injured by a bystander holding a box cutter. Both required extensive surgery and the assault nearly cost them their lives. On average, there are 100 such incidents each year. These incidents cause approximately 8% of fatalities reported in the profession.
- Overexertion. Gurneys, patients, accident debris can be rather heavy. Even with proper training and procedure, lifting and moving patients through accident scenes can cause serious injury. From 2003 to 2007, 9,290 back injuries were reported. This represented 37% of all personal injuries sustained. Further, EMT’s and paramedics cited lifting patients in 7,960 of these incidents.
- Transportation. EMT’s and paramedics are often required to work while transporting patients to hospitals and emergency medical facilities. This puts them at risk for injury as the ambulance jostles down the road. From 2003 to 2007 1,940 transportation injuries were reported. During the same period, 51 fatalities were reported. Of these, 86% were due to transportation-related injuries.
- Blood/Pathogen Exposure. Paramedics are required to work under difficult and dangerous conditions, on patients whose bodies are broken. Often, a patient’s skin integrity has been compromised and there are considerable quantities of blood present. Based on surveys conducted by the CDC, it is estimated that 22% of EMT’s and paramedics will experience at least one blood exposure during the year as they treat trauma victims. This puts them at considerable risk of contracting HIV, Hepatitis, and other bloodborne pathogens. More troubling is that the CDC believes this to be a conservative estimate as EMT’s and paramedics indicated that only 72% of needlestick injuries, and 49% of all exposures were reported to their employers.
- Sexual Assault. 2.7% of all EMT’s report being the victims of sexual assault. These assaults are perpetrated by patients, the patient’s family/friends, bystanders, and colleagues.
Protection from Assault
Assaults on EMT’s and paramedics are a growing concern across the country. An investigation conducted by ABC 7 in Chicago in 2013 showed an alarming number of incidents in Illinois where EMT’s and paramedics were specifically targeted for assault. In order to protect members of these professions, law enforcement stepped up their efforts to arrest and prosecute individuals who assault emergency responders. Under Illinois statutes, prosecutors may charge any individual who assaults an EMT or paramedic with aggravated assault. Further, injured EMT’s and paramedics working with a workers’ comp lawyer may file for workers’ compensation.
Long-Term Psychological Damage – PTSD
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a condition that results from repeated exposure to traumatic events. EMT’s and paramedics are continually exposed to events and scenes that are nothing short of heartbreaking. Arriving at car accidents, attending to child deaths, treating burn victims, and being present for countless other tragedies are part of the job. These experiences can cause long-term emotional and psychological damage.
In a study conducted by Dr. Mark Holland, 29% of Chicago EMS providers were found to be experiencing some level of PTSD. This puts EMT’s and paramedics at increased risk for employment termination, divorce, alcoholism, and suicide.
Volunteer EMT’s and Workers’ Compensation
Many communities maintain volunteer EMT’s and paramedics. In Illinois, these individuals are protected by the Volunteer Emergency Worker Job Protection Act. Thus, they may not be terminated from their employment for performing their volunteer duties. However, they are generally not eligible to receive workers’ compensation for injuries sustained in the performance of their duties.