I have been working for almost four years on an ambulance. Even before that, I volunteered doing the same sort of work. In all the years I have worked in emergency services, I can count one one hand the number of times I have been afraid for my own safety on a call. In every case I can count it was related not to the nature of the call or the people involved, but the weather. I am statistically more likely to die in an accident on the way to a call than by any other means.
What happened in Webster, NY this morning is by no means novel. EMT and Paramedic courses specifically include an entire unit on personal safety, including warning us to beware that any given call may indeed be a trap. We are targets, because we are so easy to lure into the hunter's trap. A call to 911 will get a response. There is no case that we would refuse to respond.
Assuring our safety depends largely upon the people who answer those 911 calls. The call takers and dispatchers have a huge burden in having to assess a situation without actually being there, and having to characterize that situation based on verbal reports by often frantic, panicked individuals that are on the line. It is upon the information that they obtain that we as first responders decide whether to await police before approaching an emergency scene.
For all the years that I have worked on an ambulance, I have never considered that the people we serve would intentionally mean us harm. I have known some coworkers that wear Kevlar vests to work. I have, until today, thought them a little bit paranoid. Today, I have decided that my Christmas gift to myself will be a Kevlar vest.
Webster is but an hour away from here by highway.
Every call, every alarm elicits primarily thoughts of whether or not it is safe to insert myself into that scene. I have never before felt that my personal safety was at risk. Even on calls obviously related to violence, never have I felt that that violence could or would be directed at me. I am there to help, after all. What happened today in Webster is too close to ignore.
I am going in to work Christmas morning. It is not the first Christmas day I have had to work. A few years ago, I delivered a baby on Christmas, and I will never forget that experience. This Christmas, I will work, but this Christmas, I will be afraid. For the first time in my professional life, I will be afraid.
Wed Dec 26, 2012 at 5:39 AM PT: Thanks for all the recs and kindness. Was an okay day at work, and I hope you all also had a good holiday.