This year EMS week focused nationwide on how EMS is not just a job, but rather it is a true calling.
Fairfield County EMS Director Mike Tanner has made a life of that calling, working 13 years in that role in Fairfield.
A 26-year EMS member, he served first as volunteer firefighter for the Lebanon Fire Department. As part of that service, he received EMT training and says he “never looked back.”
Tanner says it takes a special kind of person to be in the EMS field.
Though training and safety procedures reduce the risk to EMTs and paramedics as much as possible there is inherent danger in the job. No two calls are alike.
Risks lurk in locations most average citizens may be unaware of, such as an electric cable in hybrid automobiles.
If the EMS personnel are not aware of the location of that cable, they could be killed when using extraction tools to free a trapped passenger.
Airbags pose a hazard because if a cylinder is cut, then essentially shrapnel would be flying at the EMS workers.
“We must look out for ourselves and our safety first when we arrive on scene. If we get injured while serving, we have just defeated our purpose of being there,” Tanner said.
EMS calls extend beyond medical calls or traffic accidents.
Fights, drug overdoses, stabbings and psychiatric calls are but a few of the situations EMS workers may encounter on their shifts.
Some of the most dangerous EMS calls involve domestic violence situations. Other trying calls involve cases of elder or child abuse.
He said it is a rare breed who do EMS work and to be able to handle the sights and smells that go with the job. Seeing young people die early especially is hard.
“There are two types of EMTs, those who last for a few days or those who stick with it for years. It all depends on how they respond to the first few really bad calls,” Tanner said.
“You get into a zone as you work on a patient and then the training all kicks in,” he said.
Tanner should know. He once did trauma EMS work on his own son following a bad motorcycle accident.
“During the call, it was like clockwork. I just performed as a paramedic but afterward I was a freaked out as a dad,” he said.
Critical stress debriefings occur after particularly difficult calls. During the debriefing employees have time to sit, vent and cry, if needed.
EMS workers also use humor to help cope with the stress, especially when they work the scene of a bad accident. Humor is not a sign of disrespect to the victims but rather a way for the EMS workers to keep the stress from building up.
EMS works hand-in-hand with the Fairfield County Rescue Squad, which assists with technical rescues.
In fact, according to Tanner, many of the EMS workers also serve as volunteers with the rescue squad.
In Fairfield County the EMS also conducts training for county agencies such as the schools, the department of public works and employees at the detention center.
They also do in-house training sessions for their own employees and all three levels of EMS personnel: Basic EMT, EMT Intermediate and Paramedic.
Each truck that leaves for a call has at least one paramedic on board.
In order to be prepared for that calling while recognizing its employees, Fairfield County EMS held a luncheon last week before EMS week because that added in flexibility to the schedule in case members had to respond to a flurry of calls during the actual week of recognition.
On average Fairfield EMS covers about 6,000 calls per year with the majority being medical calls but with trauma calls being the second major call.
Most transports are made to Fairfield Memorial Hospital or to Palmetto Richland Hospital, but they also take patients to Providence Northeast, Lexington Medical Center, Palmetto Baptist and to Piedmont provided the patient is in stable condition.
If the patient is in critical condition, then EMS must take them immediately to the most appropriate treatment facility, but otherwise they do their best to honor patient requests provided the facility is within a 50 mile radius of Fairfield.
Tanner and his colleagues are thankful for their calling and the privilege to serve in Fairfield County.
A total of 70 employees, including 43 full-time employees, staff the EMS center.
They work 48 hour shifts and then have 96 hours off.
All personnel must receive 72 hours of training within a two year period so they remain certified.
Fairfield EMS ahas six substations throughout the county and their response zone covers 710 square miles of territory.