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Why identifying, managing stress after a tough call is important

25 May 2018 9:28 AM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

By Robert Mitchell, Retired Chief and Member of the IPSA's Memorial Committee

“Rescue 22 respond to 2615 Kingfisher Dr. for a two-year old having seizures. Timeout 0345, Unit responding select Tac 6.”

It’s 0345 in the morning. You’re on duty having just laid down for the first time this shift about 30 minutes ago. You’ve decided not to eat anything to try and get some sleep. You’re on the back side of a 48-hour shift which wasn’t much slower. As you stagger to the truck, you try to remember where Kingfisher Drive is. When you do arrive at the address, a mom comes running out the front door carrying her two-year old daughter in her arms. As you take the toddler you notice she’s kind of stiff and her colors a bit greyish. 

In the back of the truck you assess the little one and determine that she is indeed having a seizure and she is posturing. Mom tells you she has no known history, no allergies, doesn’t take any medicine and she’s been like this for at least 10 minutes. As you have done a thousand times, you continue her assessment, treatment and transport. 

The hospital is 10 minutes away and your partner makes it in five. There’s been no significant change in your tiny patient’s status the entire time she’s been in your care. You turn her over to the Emergency Room staff and get your unit back in service and write your report. You’ve done everything possible for this little one and you’ve done it right. You return to the station. Your shift finally ends. You go home.

After the shift ends

As you stagger into the house, your greeted by your two-year old who wants to do nothing more than play with you. Tears well up in your eyes and you can hardly keep it together. This is an all too often sequence of events for most of us in EMS, and sometimes it’s hard to let go.

  • Does this happen to you regularly?
  • What else is causing you stress? 
  • Do you have a healthy way to deal with stress?

These are just a few questions you need to ask yourself to self-assess. Everyone knows the importance of diet, exercise, sleeping and staying hydrated. But is there more? The answer is yes.

Recognition of PTSD in public safety is at the forefront of the media and in many states, their legislatures. The International Public Safety Association has done several webinars on the topic and even created a series of posters for agencies and individuals to download and post in their departments. This is fantastic news, but how is this going to help the EMS responder in the field?

Collectively we have seen an increase in Critical Incident Stress Teams, Peer Support Teams, Chaplains and family training classes for spouses, significant others, and children that help to prepare them for what their responder maybe facing. Most responders don’t want to open to someone who has no operational experience in EMS or at the very least public safety. Having leaders who at least know how to recognize the signs of stress is a critical first step in getting help. As individuals we need to learn and understand that we may need help as well.

  • Talk with your family about your feelings.
  • Talk with a trusted professional.
  • Remember your spiritual needs.
  • Talk to your peers. 
  • Seek positive ways to release your stress like exercising, reading a book and even playing video games.

Do yourself and your loved ones a favor, if you’re stressed, look for healthy ways to de-stress. Don’t be afraid to reach out, you are not alone.

About the Author

Chief Mitchell retired after 38 years of public safety service in fire, EMS, law enforcement and Emergency Management. He currently holds his Chief Fire Officer, Chief Emergency Medical Service Officer and Professional Emergency Manager designations.  He hold a degree in Professional Management from Nova Southeastern University and currently consults for a variety of different organizations.  Chief Mitchell is a member of the IPSA Memorial Committee.

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