The first time I laid hands on a patient’s chest and did CPR, I was 16 years old. There were probably close to a dozen total times that I used the skill that I learned at the age of 14 before I was legally able to be the treating EMT by myself in the back of an ambulance, a responsibility that one must be 18 to hold. On the overwhelming majority of the CPR calls that I have been on in my career, let alone those two years before I was of legal age, I left the patient just like I found them, dead.
On January 25, 2015, the Surfside Beach Fire Department in South Carolina rolled a rig with a CPR certified junior firefighter on the truck. At some point, it was that teenager’s turn to tag in on compressions and do their two minute duty. Much like nearly 93% of all cardiac arrests worked nationwide, that crew from the Surfside Beach Fire Department left the patient how they found them, dead, much to the dismay of the Surfside Beach town council.
Almost a month ago, an “unnamed official” with the town filed a complaint, prompting an investigation by the State of South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control. The investigation, concluded earlier this week, found no evidence of wrong doing despite the shock and horror expressed by town officials.
These are the kinds of stories that make the news that are related to our industry. No matter how futile the efforts might be, the loss of a patient is obviously catastrophic to a patient’s family, but blaming a teenager for performing a skill that is taught to kids as young as 10 is preposterous. Thankfully, there are many who agree with me on this stance.
I got my start as a cadet on my first volunteer squad, and I had the chance to mentor a few other cadets over the years. It takes a special kind of person to handle the responsibilities that an EMT or first responder is tasked with at such a young age, but for every call, much like that junior firefighter in South Carolina, I was closely monitored if I performed any treatments on a patient. I took vitals, applied oxygen, held hands, and did CPR. If I did something wrong, I was very quickly corrected. If the call sounded like something I should not be going on, I was held back at the station, despite my protests to the fact.
Cultivating young minds who might have an interest in public safety is a very important thing. Strong volunteer departments are a great place for them to get a taste for emergency services, as long as they are surrounded by worthy mentors. With the finding of no wrong doing by the State of South Carolina, one has to come to the conclusion that the SBFD met all of those requirements.
Councilmember Randle Stevens said, “The town is embarrassed. I’m embarrassed.” Well, Mr. Stevens, you’re not the only one. I’m embarrassed for you. Asking a few simple questions of the department in an effort to understand exactly what happened that night might have gone a long way.
And really, that is what this comes down to is ignorance. Government officials continue to make assumptions about what happens in the back of an ambulance, and the role that emergency services should play in their community without taking the time to ask the real experts, those who respond to the emergencies in their community, what might be best for the town. As long as that attitude continues, we will continue to have the sort of uphill battle and blemish on public perception that the Surfside Beach town council slapped the fire department with.
Oh well, at least they correctly referenced HIPAA.