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Coping with Trauma: Q&A with an EMT

APHE5-19Interview with:


Captain, Fire Prevention Investigation Bureau

Greentown Fire Department Inc.

Greentown, Ohio


How long have you been an EMT?  30 years


I know it’s been many years since you’ve been in school. What coping skills or training were you given to deal with obvious traumatic situations?


Absolutely nothing, but 30 years ago we were seen as helpers of people, so the helping was the coping mechanism.


What coping skills have you developed on your own to deal with traumatic calls?


Well, we have a stress debriefing team in the county. It’s made up of all the professionals: fire, EMS, police, clergy. The chaplain of Canton Fire, Reverend Bullock is the team leader. Within 24 hours we do a diffusing – a trained person talks with the individuals just to get them to tell the story. Within 48 hours we will assemble a team to talk to anybody involved in that incident.


My team, my training, experience, education, physical fitness and exercise are my coping skills. Faith is another one.


If you get a call and you know it’s going to be a difficult call, what do you do to prepare for the scene that you’re anticipating you’ll find?


My experience can help me draw a mental picture based on what a dispatcher tells me. Since I’m looked upon as a leader, and I need to set the tone of what the rest of my crew is going to do, if I’m excited, they’re going to be excited.



Describe a call you went on that was particularly difficult to cope with.  


We got a call about a woman in labor who was doing a home birth that had run into some complications. We got there and baby was stuck. The head was sticking out and mom was screaming. I tried everything I knew to get the baby out, but nothing worked. We were halfway to the hospital, and mom went into cardiac arrest, and boom, the baby shot out of her like a shotgun. Suddenly I’m doing CPR on a baby and giving directions to my crew to get mom going again because the cord is still attached. So we get to the hospital, we cut the cord. Mom comes back, we get the baby up to the NICU and we’re in good shape.


So we were heroes, and I was interviewed on the news. Within a year baby was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Mom sued us for wrongful care and misconduct. I was backed 150% by my medical control doctor and the state EMS board. I was thinking my career was done and that I would lose my license. Finally it was due to go to court, and it didn’t happen because no amount of money would help that child have a normal life.



What should families, spouses, partners understand about the challenges of trauma that you deal with?


How the family deals with stress depends on whether this is going to work or not.  Families have to rely on their love and the faith of their relationship. Couples that communicate well, do well.


When you have a newbie EMT, what signs do you look for, for ineffective coping skills?


Basically how they perform. If they are stressed they lash out at a patient. Their skills may be very poor. You look at their demeanor.


How do you help them when you see obvious signs of stress or ineffective coping?


Sometimes the guys come and talk about it, and the camaraderie helps. And we might pull them aside privately, or find a way to give them an opening to talk about it, so they’re not embarrassed in front of the crew.


What would you tell a person thinking about becoming an EMT about coping with trauma?


As a teacher, I teach them about stress. And they do ride-alongs. At the beginning of any class I tell them “here’s what you can expect; here’s what this job is all about.” But I tell them it’s the greatest job in the world, but that it comes with some sacrifices.


GloriaGattarGloria Gattar RN BSN writes on medical and legal topics and is also a health and wellness consultant. When she's not falling out of Tree Pose, you can find her behind the scenes of many local theatre productions or at You can also follow her on Twitter @themeannurse.

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