Tornado Drives Home Meaning Behind National EMS Week
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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