ON SCENE – Everyday Superheroes

Emergency Service Responder Roles

Everyone at an emergency scene has a role to play. Some are specific to job duties, such as EMTs, police officers and paramedics, while others may be circumstantial. All are critical to the survival of the victims involved.  

Layperson Bystander – there are two ways an onlooker and/or bystander can help in an emergency situation. The first is obvious – call 911! Get those trained professionals on their way as quickly as possible! The second is to see if there are victims you can help without putting yourself or them in further danger. USE COMMON SENSE! Do not rush into a burning building or approach a burning vehicle, but in cases of something like sudden cardiac arrest, you can begin CPR and either run to retrieve an AED or send another bystander to find an AED. Continue aid until EMS arrives and takes over, then be sure and give them the space they need to work.

Dispatcher – the layman bystander’s calm in the storm, the 911 dispatcher can talk someone through CPR or other simple triage until EMS arrives. Sometimes just having another person on the end of the phone line can turn the caller’s panic into purpose with knowledge and reassurance. In addition, they ensure the appropriate resources are on scene and coordinate with emergency personnel to have any additional equipment sent out after the emergency has been assessed.

Police Officer – many times a police officer or sheriff’s deputy will be one of the first emergency responders to arrive. Since they are generally out on the streets already when the call comes in, the closest car to the scene will respond. Their job is to be sure the area is safe and secure and relay more information to the 911 dispatcher if they can. Many now carry emergency medical kits and defibrillators in their vehicles to begin immediate care to victims. Once EMS arrives, they will step back and work with loved ones, take statements if there was a crime involved, or help with crowd control/traffic issues at the scene.

Firefighter – in almost every emergency scenario, a fire truck will be dispatched along with the ambulance (even if there is not a fire involved). In fact, don’t be surprised if the fire truck arrives before the ambulance! Fire stations are strategically placed to respond quickly to emergencies, while ambulance services may be more spread out. Each vehicle usually has two firefighters who are also cross-trained as EMT/paramedics. Since every emergency is different, you never know how many trained hands will be needed. In the case of cardiac arrest, ideally one person is controlling the airway, one person is doing chest compressions, one person is watching the heart monitor with the defibrillator at the ready, and one person is starting and then monitoring an IV. During transport, one of the EMS personnel who arrived in the fire truck will usually ride in the back area of the ambulance to help monitor the patient. The fire truck will also be equipped with specialized extraction tools like the jaws of life, should they be needed in emergency scenarios such as traffic accidents.

EMT/Paramedic – the difference between an EMT and a Paramedic is the amount of education they have received and the subsequent level of care they are allowed to render the patient. However, be assured both EMTs and paramedics have the knowledge and skills to transport patients and provide them with emergency care. Again using the example of a case of sudden cardiac arrest, “The biggest difference is the EMT Basic’s role stops after an airway is placed. EMT-Intermediates can start an IV and deliver some medications, but the Paramedic is definitely going to get IV access or even intraosseous access (actually putting a needle into the bone and delivering medications),” says Mike Carlin, who has had a lifelong career in EMS.  When there is a paramedic on scene, “The paramedic is going to use a lot of different medications to try to get the heart into a rhythm that electricity can fix. If you look at cardiac arrest in an ER, cardiac arrest in the back of an ambulance, or cardiac arrest in somebody’s house, the same procedures and the same level of care is happening.” The only real difference is the hospital is a controlled environment with better lighting, while paramedics have to deal with any number of unique settings – from roadsides to cramped bathrooms, to busy public venues and everything in between.

From a simple broken bone to a cardiac arrest; single car accidents to multi-car pile-ups; small grease fire to fully-engulfed high-rise, every emergency requires skilled respondents. Ready at a moment’s notice, emergency service jobs are not 9 to 5, and their salaries do not make them millionaires. They do what they do because of a calling to help people in need, and this makes them everyday superheroes. Brush up your own everyday superhero skills with a first aid certification class.  

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