One of the most important things that the pandemic has taught first responders is that without cooperation among agencies — fire, EMS, police, etc. — it is difficult, if not impossible, to properly serve our communities. The old adage “it takes a village” should be the mantra that emergency response agencies adopt.
Without inter-agency cooperation, emergency response can suffer. In the end it is the people in need of assistance who ultimately suffer when agencies do not work together towards a common goal.
Agencies must find a way to break down the silos that they often pigeonhole themselves into. For instance, EMS personnel should not be the sole responders who provide emergency medical assistance. This is especially true in rural areas where the nearest ambulance might be 20 minutes or more away. Firefighters and law enforcement personnel may be on the scene sooner than EMS personnel, and they should start the medical assistance process before EMS arrives. Of course, EMS personnel may have more extensive training, more specialized equipment, and are able to provide more advanced care, but other agencies must be able to perform basic assistance without angering or stepping on the toes of another agency. Silos can be frustrating. They can cause tension amongst agencies and even within an agency.
The pandemic has highlighted the need to break down silos. Emergency response personnel have endured long hours, fatigue and complete exhaustion. Even more than the physical toll has been the emotional toll that the pandemic has inflicted upon responders. Agencies who have not reached out to other responders have suffered. Those who have crossed inter-agency boundaries have found a way to not only survive, but to persevere and become stronger. Stronger ties amongst agencies lessen the burden by sharing the workload. Even if agencies do not cross-train for other response areas, having a good working relationship with other response agencies, instead of a contentious one, lessens stress.
Fostering inter-agency cooperation starts at the top. If the Chiefs/Assistant Chiefs of the various emergency response agencies serving an area cannot get along, their departments will not get along. One of the simplest, yet often overlooked or underappreciated, ways to foster cooperation is to communicate with each other. Good communication can oftentimes overcome misperceptions and miscommunication. One of the best ways to get the administration from each of the emergency response agencies in the area to meet is to come together over food. Sharing a meal helps promote a more relaxed environment in which people feel free to talk to each other. Meetings help to establish relationships which foster a higher level of cooperation.
Cross-training opportunities are another great strategy to foster cooperation. Cross-training broadens the skill-set of responders, and it also provides a better sense of what each agency brings to the table. A great example of cross training comes from the medical world. Emergency responders should all be trained to provide CPR. No matter what agency (police, fire, ems, rescue), all emergency responders benefit from the ability to perform cardio pulmonary resuscitation. Other examples of cross-training include the administration of Narcan for drug overdoses or the use of fire extinguishers. In rural areas, cross training is taken to another level. Police officers may be volunteer firefighters. Fire fighters may double as emergency medical personnel. EMS crews might also be auxiliary police officers. No matter how in-depth, cross-training is a great way to foster cooperation amongst agencies and personnel.
Drills and Practice
Agencies should drill and practice working together on a regular basis. Practicing together is highly beneficial to identify strengths, weaknesses and specific tasks that should be performed by each agency. It also enhances overall response by agencies working in cooperation with one another. A key benefit of joint drills and practice is overcoming communication difficulties. If agencies cannot directly communicate with each other, such as the ability to communicate on the same radio frequency, practice can help establish protocols for proper communication during emergency situations.
Response agencies must be able to cooperate and work together for the betterment of the communities they serve. All response agencies should have the same goal — to provide the best service that they can in as timely a manner as they can. Agencies should avoid the pitfalls of silos, they should foster cooperation, and they should practice together to form a cohesive response.