Not exactly something to be proud of…

September 15, 2011 § Leave a comment

So, a bit ago I posted about the impact of Hurricane Irene and some of the issues that arose during response to the impacts (https://stickysidedown.wordpress.com/2011/09/05/an-emergency-managers-dream-come-true/). I wanted to take tonight to look at the issue of work/rest cycles and talk about what can be done.

While dealing with issues associated with Hurricane Irene, I spoke with an individual in one of the affected jurisdictions. In the initial “hi, how are ya’s”, he mentioned that he had been at work since the previous Wednesday (it was now the following tuesday…six days later). Another individual from the same jurisdiction mentioned that he had worked 90 hours straight.  Honest to god, when I heard this I wanted to reach through the phone, grab each of them by their shoulders, and shake them while screaming “THIS IS NOT SOMETHING TO BE PROUD OF”. WHile I understand that there are times where we definitely don’t get the break we need to get back to 100%, the work cycles described by these individuals is not something I will EVER be okay with.

When we think of rehab, we often think of the house fire, long-term extrication, or even mass casualty incident (MCI) that initiates a need to provide food, drink, and rest to the firefighters for only a short period of time. We don’t think about the fact that we may need to give firefighters a restful night’s sleep before expecting them to return to duty.  Studies have been done regarding the impacts of the 24/7 cycle and the ability to cognitively and physically function. I don’t think you have to read the study to know that the less sleep you have, the more erractic and impaired your decisions become. In fact, an article I found at http://www.emsworld.com/print/EMS-World/Seeking-Shift-Work-Solutions/1$16575 cites a study that finds that a person who functions without sleep for 24 hours works at the impairment level of someone with a .10% BAC!

In the situation I presented at the start of this post, the defense could easily be, “Well, we let them sleep for X-hours””. I’d argue that it wasn’t beneficial at all. Why? Because the rest area offered to these individuals is not only in an environment that has no electricity/air conditioning/water (and therefore, comfort), but is the same place as the work environment. There is a need to separate the EMS provider from the station, even if just for 6 hours, to allow them to get a true physical and mental break from the activities of the job.

How do we solve this? We preplan. We recognize that we don’t have the appropriate staffing levels or personnel and we start early in the process to request assistance. In events such as the hurricane, we are lucky because we have forewarning. We KNOW that hte potential exists that our area will be hit.  Begin the mutual aid request process. Look to neighboring jurisdictions/agencies within your state and get the help there early. You also need to recognize your limits. At what point are you just going to have to say “We can’t do that”?  It’s a hard concept, because you have to be able to answer to the questions that will undoubtedly be asked. But I personally believe it’s easier to answer to the bosses, then to the opposing atorney when you are being questioned on the witness stand.

Does your agency have a workplan for the long term event? Are you guarateed (by contract, by SOP, by whatever) the ability to have a specific length break when working 24/7?  Any thoughts?

Also, check me out on twitter – @stickysidedwn.

Stay safe!

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