Consider emergency personnel

People who encounter an ambulance rushing to the scene of an accident or medical emergency seldom, if ever, ponder the impact that life-saving mission might have on the human responders.

Most people who are unfamiliar with the proverbial nuts and bolts of being part of an ambulance crew envision those responders as hardened to the difficult — sometimes virtually impossible — tasks that they perform day after day.

Indeed, to a large extent, they must be hardened; lives depend on them doing their job, without being hindered by personal emotions regarding that which they are witnessing and dealing.

But at the end of their shift, as an article in the Sept. 19 Mirror reported, many responders sometimes aren’t able to put “just another day’s work” behind them.

As Dave Cowger, a member of the Altoona Mobile Emergency Department board of directors, pointed out in the article, responders oftentimes, after their ambulance shift, find themselves mentally processing what they’ve experienced that day in their home environment.

Cowger, a retired medical doctor, noted that some of the individuals in question sometimes end up “turning off (their) emotions.”

And others interviewed by Mirror reporter William Kibler also mentioned the danger of burnout, drug and alcohol abuse related directly to the stress of ambulance worker duties, and a purportedly high divorce rate among ambulance workers.

Such troubling impacts don’t just endanger AMED personnel. They’re issues that impact ambulance services of all sizes, regardless of the size of the communities in which they operate.

Members of such crews are heroes who perform virtual miracles daily. However, each day, they face turmoil within their own minds about why the individuals to whose crises they have responded allowed themselves to get into their life-threatening predicament.

It’s one thing when people are afflicted by a medical emergency beyond their control, such as a heart attack or stroke. It’s another when the ambulance response is for situations, such as a drug overdose or a vehicle crash resulting from drunken or careless driving, that could have been avoided with more-responsible behavior.

To help its ambulance crew members avoid, or better deal with, the mental and emotional hazards that are inherent in their stressful occupation, AMED is considering implementing a new resource — mandatory mental health assistance sessions initially for all of its employees who ride ambulances, then voluntary follow-up sessions for those wanting them.

It’s a resource that other ambulance services should take note of, and consider offering to their own crew members.

When a tragedy strikes at a school or workplace, mental health professionals oftentimes are brought in to help students or employees deal with their feelings and grief.

That’s a correct step.

There is no less of a need for similar kinds of help for those who too often encounter gruesome, numbing tragedies for which their skills, knowledge and mental toughness are required.

When people see ambulances hurrying to their destinations, they should not only be thankful that well-trained people are manning them, but also should realize that those responders are human beings with feelings and emotions of their own.

AMED should get this new resource up and running as soon as possible — not only for itself, but as a source of guidance for others.