By Allison G. S. Knox
Contributor, EDM Digest
Recently, an EDM Digest article highlighted how one emergency medical services agency recently started using body armor for all of its personnel. The idea of wearing body armor is certainly important, because so many emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics are put in harm’s way when they respond to a 911 emergency.
Body armor is a relatively controversial issue, however. It brings up numerous issues about the safety of first responders and the 911 calls they answer.
How Safe Is an Emergency Scene for First Responders?
Emergency medical technicians and paramedics are trained to wait until a scene is safe before entering it and treating people. This is a normal part of training and protocols; most emergency medical technicians and paramedics won’t enter a scene until they’re notified to enter.
However, there are occasional calls that look like they’re safe, but are not. Take a head trauma case, for example.
A person with a serious head injury might appear to be unconscious – until that moment when he snaps and attacks the caregivers because aggression is a normal symptom of head trauma.
In other circumstances, paramedics and emergency medical technicians might enter a scene only to have a family member become violent toward them when he or she faces the reality of possibly losing a loved one. In 2013, for instance, four firefighters were held hostage when they responded to what appeared to be a typical medical call.
These incidents are concerning, especially when EMTs and paramedics are not armed. To conserve resources, law enforcement units are only dispatched when they’re obviously needed. It has become clear that body armor is absolutely needed to help protect emergency medical services personnel.
Should EMTs and Paramedics Carry Weapons to Protect Themselves?
There are numerous and controversial arguments about whether or not emergency medical technicians and paramedics should be armed. At the same time, there are arguments against providing arms to first responders.
One point that is made against arming EMTs is that it’s difficult for first responders to get in a self-defense mindset when they’re there to perform lifesaving techniques. Others argue that body armor should be regular equipment used in emergency medical services.
When emergency medical technicians and paramedics are actually in danger, that is some of the longest moments in their lives – especially when law enforcement hasn’t arrived yet at the scene. In such instances, it makes sense to give first responders more ways to protect themselves.
Pros and Cons of Body Armor
In many respects, body armor helps keep EMTs and paramedics safe. However, body armor does have several drawbacks:
- It is costly equipment.
- It is heavy and hot to wear.
- It can be particularly hard for some EMTs and paramedics to work in.
- More importantly, it can be hard to justify its cost and use when the risks associated with such emergencies just aren’t there – particularly if a department doesn’t get many calls or the calls are not violence-related.
There are different classes of body armor. Considering that budgets for emergency medical services are often tight, it is difficult for some agencies to justify the purchase of body armor especially when the risk of such emergencies is relatively low.
EMS Agencies Must Evaluate Safety, Cost and Risk before Body Armor Purchases
First responder safety is a critical concern. EMS agencies must figure out what type of protection works best for them and if the safety risk to first responders is great enough to justify the purchase of costly body armor.