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ADVANCE Perspective: Nurses

Tornado Drives Home Meaning Behind National EMS Week

Published May 21, 2013 10:55 AM by Chuck Holt

I grew up in Kansas City, on both the Kansas and Missouri sides of the state line and smack dab in the middle of Tornado Alley.

One of my earliest memories is of my dad, my three older brothers and me scrambling to get out of our station wagon and getting down into a ditch along the side of a highway to try and protect us from a twister roaring by only a few hundred yards away. 

We all survived virtually unscathed, but to this day I can still hear the classic freight train noise of the intense wind and still feel the heaviness in my four-year-old legs from the atmospheric pressure dropping so quickly and dramatically around us.  

Soon after, the sirens were approaching as what I would later understand to be emergency medical service personnel and other responders descended upon the scene, including the fire chief, who just happened to be a lifelong friend of my dad. I'm sure I really didn't know who he was or what he did at that age, but I remember thinking we were going to be OK once I saw him, if only because my dad and brothers seemed less shaken. 

And so I find my heart especially heavy as I, like so many of you, watched helplessly the scenes of devastation unfold in the aftermath of the tornado that tore through Moore, Okla. on Monday. I also can relate to, though certainly not to the same degree, the sense of relief and the feeling that things will be OK some victims no doubt felt when EMS personnel arrived on the scene.  

It’s fitting then, maybe, that this week is National EMS Week. It is a time when we should all stop and think about how incredibly fortunate we all are that so many of our fellow citizens are willing to put everything in their own lives on hold in order to help others in their most desperate hours.

But perhaps a statement on National EMS Week released Monday by HHS Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, Nicole Lurie, MD, says it best:

“This week, our nation honors emergency medical service (EMS) professionals for their dedication to public service. As the HHS assistant secretary for preparedness and response, I know how important their role is in disasters. As a primary care physician, I know how important their work is every day. People rely on EMS in disasters and other public health emergencies, as well as for personal emergency care.

“We know that our healthcare system must be ready at a moment’s notice to respond to threats to the public’s health. Time and time again, disaster after disaster, EMS responders across the country have risen to that challenge, whether the community is impacted by a hurricane, wildfire, flood, bombing, chemical plant explosion, or pandemic flu.

“In recent disasters, we have witnessed EMS responders providing triage on the scene in Boston after the bombing, helping evacuate nursing homes in New York State after Hurricane Sandy, and caring for injured or ill patients as they were transported to hospitals in Texas after a plant explosion.

"Dozens of EMS responders give their lives every year in the service to our communities and our nation. Those who remain continue to take pride in being the people we can depend on even in difficult and dangerous situations.

“To become better prepared, the nation is moving increasingly toward building coalitions bringing together EMS providers, public health agencies, hospitals, nursing homes, dialysis centers, health care providers, home health agencies, emergency management agencies, and local businesses.

"EMS is a critical partner in our healthcare system, so I encourage EMS professionals to take an active role in helping communities forge and strengthen these partnerships. Given the regular interaction EMS responders have with these organizations in the community, EMS is uniquely positioned to bring potential partners together to plan for and minimize the impact that disasters have on health.

“Disaster response and recovery requires a whole community working together. It’s one mission, one team. EMS is a crucial part of that team, there when every minute counts.”

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