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The Times
  • Carol Mansfield: Natural disasters and the role of EMS

  • Many Massachusetts and Rhode Island residents are still feeling the effects of Hurricane Sandy while others are concerned about the potential for an earthquake in the aftermath of tremors that rocked the region last month. The televised images of the devastation these natural disasters have caused are hard to shake and make us realize how vulnerable we are to Mother Nature.

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  • Many Massachusetts and Rhode Island residents are still feeling the effects of Hurricane Sandy while others are concerned about the potential for an earthquake in the aftermath of tremors that rocked the region last month. The televised images of the devastation these natural disasters have caused are hard to shake and make us realize how vulnerable we are to Mother Nature.
    But in times of catastrophe rest assured that first responders — police, fire and Emergency Medical Service units — can be counted on to provide vital assistance and ease the fears and concerns of victims of natural disaster. 
    The roles of first responders are varied and invaluable, with EMS units responsible for response and recovery; advanced medical care; transport to hospitals; search and rescue; and coordination with government and non-government agencies. Emergency medical  service personnel work in partnership with firefighters to treat and transport victims of natural disaster to temporary shelters, but their role can be expanded to help whoever may be in need.
    The role of EMS and ambulance service during a natural disaster or in the event of a public health emergency also includes patient triage, decontamination, treatment, transport and disaster shelter staffing.
    With such a wide-ranging roster of responsibilities, the importance of ongoing training for emergency medical technicians and paramedics cannot be overstated.
    Continuing education and licensing upgrades such as pediatric advanced life support help to ensure that those in the EMS field are highly trained, diversified, and have the ability to respond to any situation.
    Over the past several decades, the role of EMS has expanded to provide emergency medical care for all types of situations. Natural and man-made disasters have further transformed the function of EMS; the list of hazards continues to increase as well as the potential need to care for large numbers of patients, as evidenced by 9/11.
    And with advances in medicine and technology, the emergency care provided by EMTs and paramedics is constantly on the cutting edge. The world in which we live demands that communities maintain a comprehensive EMS system that is prepared and capable of handling all emergencies, natural or otherwise.
    With that said, the question arises: What can you, as a potential patient, or a family member of a potential patient, do to prepare in advance against the likelihood that you would need transportation during difficult weather circumstances?
    First, with winter fast approaching, the potential for ice and heavy snowfall can add up to power outages. In the name of safety, it is best to avoid the use of candles and rely instead on battery powered flashlights and lamps. Those with home generators should never run them inside the home or garage. They emit deadly carbon monoxide and should be operated several feet from the home. And be sure that the power source is protected against moisture. It’s also wise to turn off any electrical equipment that was in use prior to the power outage. 
    Page 2 of 2 - Also, in the event of a storm, be certain to have enough medications on hand in case you, or the person you care for, cannot readily get to a pharmacy. Additionally, everyone should be certain to have a list of medications currently being taken in order to assist EMTs and paramedics. And, for those who are on oxygen, it’s wise to be certain there are a few extra bottles on hand in case delivery is difficult following a storm, as well as having a list of contacts in the event that there is a need to evacuate so that the family can be notified.
    Disasters of nature operate on their own timetable and schedule. Those of us in the emergency medical response industry prepare constantly for every emergency. We urge you to do what you can to be ready should you need the services of an EMS.
    Carol Mansfield is CEO of Stat Ambulance and Southcoast EMS, based in Dartmouth, Mass.
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