Though we have experienced similar occurrences in the past, the extent of sickness and loss of life surprised us all.
We may have all considered ourselves essential at some point in our careers but working through COVID-19, the term became relevant for many professions outside of public safety, as well as boosting each of our roles in the eyes of the public. Normal “perks” of living in our great nation were taken from us. Our children were introduced to e-learning, restaurants were shut down, and life as we knew it halted in some cases. However, emergencies still occurred. Law enforcement still had to deal with domestic violence, robberies, traffic stops and patrol duties. The fire service still had structure fires, MVCs and public assist calls. EMS was faced with responding to calls in full PPE to include respirators and/or PAPRs. Though some saw call volume reduce briefly, it quickly returned with a vengeance. COVID took its toll on morale and staff. We lost many patients to COVID and even experienced loss of friends, family and coworkers. Resilience became essential for operations to continue. Creativity in response plans and product acquisition was a must.
Collaboration played a huge role into the successes we did have in 2020. Though our relationships with other public safety professionals and hospital care teams were strong before 2020, we had to solidify workflows and earlier notifications of patient status. Even the questioning from 911 telecommunicators was altered to assist in crew notification of known or presumed COVID patients. When the EBOLA outbreak occurred years ago, it better prepared us for what we faced during the peak of COVID. We were able to dust off old plans and procedures and update them to relative means of work. Having a strong ability to collaborate with other public safety professionals and providing constant conversation helped keep responders and continued care teams safer than had we not already established relationships.
The mental health of our teams became more important as well. They faced many unknowns when they responded to calls. Transports in full PPE created uncomfortable situations due to heat and uncomfortable equipment. Once allowed to go home, masks were still required in the public venues. Team members in some cases were made to isolate themselves from their families due to fear of passing along COVID to them. This pandemic took its toll on the psyche of many. Even now with vaccinations and lessening numbers, we must remain vigilant in our daily activities to make sure another surge does not occur. Remember you always have resources available to you for mental health initiatives such as EAPs, the SC FAST Team (scfast.org), and the SC EMS Association (scmesa.org).
Even with all the negativity that occurred with COVID, the healthcare profession did see an increase in interest in changing careers mainly due to layoffs in other professions. Amazon drivers sought out EMT courses after taking jobs as drivers for ambulance services. Restaurant wait staff enrolled in EMT and Paramedic classes as well. With all the education of disease process and enhanced PPE options, folks who had not considered a career in health care quickly found a desire to do so.
Moving forward, we must continue to ensure a sense of heightened awareness, keep our communications path within public safety constant and open, and continue to seek people to enter our respective fields to ensure service models remain relevant and staffed. We must engage our legislators as well to help them know what we truly need and that the funding streams come to assist our providers. While much of the funding did assist with the purchasing of PPE and equipment to respond to the pandemic, expenses such as overtime cost, increased costs of doing business, and efforts to employee, train, and retain staff may not have been clearly expressed.
We must remain united on all fronts. There is strength in numbers and when we can represent public safety with one voice, we cannot be ignored. I personally want to thank each of you for the hard work and long hours we all have faced in the past year. Also, a huge thanks to your families for supporting you and understanding why the term essential was so important to the public we serve and to the role you hold at home. Stay amazing everyone!