What a Paramedic Thinks About During a Major Disaster

(First responders, the “superman complex”, and the desire to help others.)


The first thing they pound in to your head in paramedic school is what you are supposed to think about every time you get on scene of a 911 call: scene safety.

“Scene safety” is the first thing you say when you run mock calls with your instructor because it’s meant to demonstrate that you did the proper check for things like loose dogs on scene, the gunman is in custody, or there are no broken power lines above your head. Undoubtedly firefighters and police officers go through the same procedures because there’s no point in getting injured making two victims instead of one thus exacerbating the problem.

The positive thing that a lot of people took away from the bombing in Boston was the number of first responders (police, fire, EMS) that were running towards the explosion instead of away from it. Now that I no longer work in the field and watch that Boston footage with civilian eyes, I can say that what I always thought of as “normal” is actually kind of amazing. As a first responder you never really think about the things you do, you just do them because that’s what you were trained for and that’s what needs to get done. In paramedic school I was taught something called the “superman complex” made us believe you could never be hurt on scene and that’s the reason we do things like run towards explosions. I don’t think it’s a sense of invincibility that makes us do the things we do though, I think we do those things because we truly want to help; and that goes for the marathon runners and other civilians in Boston that tried to help also.

When I was a paramedic I never really thought of anything I did as “life saving” because that would put way too much pressure on myself. I always just thought of it as “this is my job and it needs to get done”. So when a major disaster like what happened at the Boston Marathon occurs or someone is hurt, a paramedic’s first instinct is to help and you usually disregard your own safety in the process; I’ve been punched, kicked, and wrestled enough coke heads to know this is true.

Unfortunately, there are times where we can’t always “clear the scene” and make sure everything is safe. In the case of the explosion at the fertilizer plant in Waco, Texas they had no idea it was going to blow up and now several EMS workers are missing. But in all of these cases it’s not because the first responders thought they were invincible, it’s because they wanted to help, just like all humans do when another is in need.

[Photo: A double exposure inside an ambulance on the night shift in New Haven, Connecticut.]


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