Emergency medical technicians (EMT’s) and paramedics are 14 times more likely to be violently injured on the job than the firefighters they work alongside, according to a new study by researchers at Dornsife School of Public Health at Drexel University.
The findings show that assault-related injuries often go unreported, as well as unacknowledged by administration, and are therefore internalized by the workers as a “part of the job.”
“First responders are an interesting group. They go in because they want to help, and when they go in they encounter these situations they never got training for,” said lead researcher Jennifer Taylor, Ph.D., M.P.H.,C.P.P.S., associate professor in the Dornsife School of Public Health.
For the study, the researchers compared statistics gathered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency-funded Firefighter Injury Research and Safety Trends (FIRST) project and interviewed paramedics who had been injured by patients.
Taylor, with the help of Drexel students and alumni, actually began looking into violent injuries as a gender issue, since statistics indicated that female members of fire department were more than six times as likely to be the victims of violent injuries. However, it soon became clear that a person’s occupation in a fire department was the aspect that really mattered.
“As an epidemiologist, I started describing the risk factors that public health researchers usually use: age, race, sex, etc,” said Taylor. “But we had some members of the responder community tell us to look at the paramedics because women are more likely to be paramedics than firefighters.”
“This is why stakeholder engagement is so important in all phases of scientific research. By having a group of advisers who could look at preliminary data, they prevented me from making an incomplete conclusion.”
In the department studied, females were more than 15 times as likely to be a paramedic than a firefighter. Once it was determined that paramedics are 14 times as likely to be assaulted, the researchers found that male paramedics are more than 12 times as likely to be assaulted than their male firefighter colleagues.
Female paramedics were 9.3 times as likely to be assaulted when compared to female firefighters. As such, the gender gap in violence became statistically insignificant.
Taylor performed one-on-one interviews and led a focus group of EMTs and paramedics who had been injured on the job. One of the major issues the participants brought up was a tenuous relationship with dispatchers who don’t give enough information on a scene.
“We’re dispatched in way too many incidents that we have no idea what we’re walking into,” one EMT said.
They also noted that dispatchers are oftentimes sluggish in calling for backup once a situation is deemed as potentially unsafe. Additionally, the participants in the study said they didn’t receive training for handling combative patients or protecting themselves.
Another weighty factor is the stress of going on so many calls in a short period of time. The department studied received more than 700 calls per day that required an ambulance response. Some calls don’t even qualify as emergencies, such as requests from a disabled person to reach the TV remote.
“Participants reflected on how this puts them in danger every time they need to respond because they drive with the same lights, sirens, and speed they would for a true medical emergency,” write the authors.
Finally, the workload and risk of violence may contribute to a poor work environment where medics experience high burnout levels and motivation to leave the profession. Improving the work conditions for paramedics and EMT workers would play an important role in public health.
“No one has looked at what the implication is for patient and public safety if we beat our medics into the ground,” Taylor said. “For cities that are large and have a huge issue of poverty, we’re exhausting our workers.
“We don’t have standards for how many medics we should have per 100,000 people. I’m very worried about exhaustion, burnout, and possible emotional detachment by the responders.”
Source: Drexel University