• Guest Post: First Responders, remember your safety!

    by Guest Author. Last modified: 06/02/14


    This is a guest post written by Ian Wilson, Managing Director of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund (JPMF). Ian is not a first responder but he’s married to one and, therefore, has a vested interest in keeping them safe on the job and making sure they return home safely after each shift.

    He wants to encourage research into safety amongst EMS personnel, a highly topical arena given recent events worldwide. We’d love to hear your thoughts below, and anyone interested in researching this area is encouraged to contact us.

    First Responders, remember your safety!

    First responders are constantly immersed in safety.

    They have to be – safety training and thinking offsets the dangers they face.

    So, whether you’re a police officer, a firefighter or a medic, you have been trained to do things safely and educated about how to keep the public (and often yourself) safe.

    Yet, despite all the training and all the emphasis on safety, many gaps remain between safety in theory and safety in the real world.

    There are several reasons why these gaps exist for emergency responders – there is the mindset that things can be done more efficiently if safety protocols are disregarded. There is also the hero/cowboy mentality that is pervasive among first responders. Such a mentality isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It fuels the desire to race towards emergencies and place yourself in harm’s way to protect others.

    In many ways, that hero mentality defines first responders.


    That said, similar to finely tuned athletes, there is something to be said for managing the adrenaline and maintaining that engine that fuels emergency responders.

    When it comes to safety, this can be as simple as taking a few seconds to think before acting. It also means really having the back of those you work with.

    Many emergency scenarios call for quick action – that’s why situations are trained for over and over and over again, so the response becomes second nature. But a few appropriately timed seconds of assessment can literally save lives.

    There is a tendency to size up people as the predominant threat during emergencies and priority calls. However, the environment – weather conditions, temperature, lighting, air quality, access points, building conditions, etc. – can be a bigger threat to safety than any person.

    We are conditioned from an early age to watch out for the “bad guy” and many first responders even want to confront that threat.

    However, it’s far less dramatic and “cool” to face the threat John Petropoulos encountered on Sept. 29, 2000 at a warehouse in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

    Const. John Petropoulos, of the Calgary Police Service, was searching for a “bad guy” during a break-and-enter call at the warehouse. During his search, he went up to a mezzanine level and stepped from a safe surface through a false ceiling.


    He only fell nine feet but his head struck the floor below and the blow was fatal.

    There was no intruder in the building and the alarm was triggered by wind that blew through a punctured door. John was 32.

    Since his death, many have labeled the fatality as an accident or a freak occurrence. Some suggested John should have watched where he was going.

    But John, who had his flashlight drawn and was looking forward, was doing his job. Those working at the warehouse were not. A simple safety railing – which was required to be there by law – would have saved his life.

    As a result of John’s death, the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund (JPMF) was created with the aim of eliminating preventable workplace injuries and fatalities to first responders by educating the public about their role in helping to keep these essential workers safe on the job.

    With the focus on educating the public, our public service announcements, safety videos and safety presentations are directed at people other than first responders. And our messaging serves to educate people about the value of emergency responders, explain why it’s in the public’s interest to protect these workers and provide tips on what they can do to keep first responders safe from harm.

    But despite the JPMF’s mandate of public education, it is also very important for our charity to be communicating with first responders on an ongoing basis – that’s who we serve and feedback from emergency responders is crucial to what we do.

    It’s also important for us to convey to firefighters, police and paramedics that they are accountable for their own safety as well. Most of them know this but reinforcement never hurts.

    This ongoing communication also informs us about training and safety protocols that first responders have in place.

    Shockingly, there is very little in terms of detailed statistics about first responder injuries and near misses. It could be a stereotypical aversion to paperwork, a macho tendency to shrug off injuries and near misses or other factors at play, but first responders should consider that reporting injuries and near misses diligently could actually prevent a fatality to a coworker. Such reporting is vital to identifying hazards and trends and providing a baseline of analysis that can be useful in keeping first responders safe on the job.

    So, if you are a first responder, please consider your environment during emergency and non-emergency calls. Also consider the conditions your coworkers are entering. It can be a bigger threat than you’d think.

    And please, do not disregard injuries, near misses or hazardous situations – even if calls result in minor injuries or no injuries at all, if you spot a hazard, report it. Cataloguing such data could save a life (if you’re not sure how or where to go about recording such incidents, please consult management and advocate for the tracking of these statistics).

    Our mission is to protect those who protect us: first responders.

    But we want to make sure you’re looking out for yourselves, too.

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    The JPMF is based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada and is a registered charity. Our resources – including PSAs, safety videos, posters and presentations – are offered free of charge to users. We cannot, however, do this without the generous support of government grants, corporate sponsors and individual donors.
    To learn more about the JPMF, please go to www.jpmf.ca or look for us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social networking sites.

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    Guest Author

    Guest posts are written by various organisations and authors with an interest in EMS, prehospital care, research and other relevant topics.

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