EMS crews constantly deal with contagious airborne and blood borne diseases. We respond to calls in all weather conditions. We deal with agitated patients and their families. Paramedics, EMT's, and all members of the ambulance crew, are exposed to all kinds of illness, infections and possible toxins, many of which we can’t see or don’t know about until after the fact.
We are trained to protect ourselves where we can with scene awareness, protective gear, cleanliness and brains. Just like any other first responder though, not everything in the textbooks is followed by our patients or the scenarios we encounter. What are some of the things we can do to (hopefully) keep us on the job, be there for the people who count on us, and bring us home to our families at the end of each shift?
Scene Safety — We can never impress this too much. Survey the scene as you arrive. If you are indoors, notice exits, the normal household items that can pose a danger, along with who else is present and where. When outdoors, notice possible hazards, such as downed power lines, ice, roads and traffic, other people, animals and terrain. In situations with probable threats involving weapons or other violence, call for police assistance, even if it means a delay to your response. And one of the most ignored rules of response, buckle up while en-route to the scene.
BSI — Use gloves and eye coverings (personal protective gear), with every call. Just because you put the gloves ON does not mean that you don’t need to change them, throw out the used gloves and clean any and all surfaces you touch with the contaminated gloves. Think about it: you took care of the patient on-scene, loaded them into the ambulance touching the working parts of the stretcher, you used your gloved hands to take a blood pressure and auscultate lung sounds, maybe you used a walkie-talkie or the rig radio to call the hospital, and you used a pen to write your patient report.
At what point did those gloves come off? Did you throw them out immediately? (Don’t pocket them)! Think of everything you touched with the gloves and later with your bare hands, even the pen from your pocket to write your PCR, and also think of all the contaminants you passed around to yourself, your crew and even the next crew and patient to be in that ambulance. There should be no such thing as a one-glove call. Change them often and clean every surface after each call AND before each shift while wearing clean gloves. Don’t forget to clean the stethoscope, the pen and the BP cuff, etc. Don’t spread the germs to your co-workers, your future patients, or your family at home.
HAZMAT — Never run blindly into a scene with multiple unconscious patients without knowing WHY so many have been incapacitated. Suspect a hazardous material or toxin and call for the appropriate response. Likewise, be careful about opening closed car doors with unconscious patients inside. You can read OSHA’s "Best Practices for Protecting EMS Responders" online at http://bit.ly/2gpIYIf