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Emergency Response Teams

A critical component of any serious workplace safety program is the Emergency Response Team. In most workplaces, these teams are comprised of employee volunteers specifically trained with the skills needed to respond to worklace emergencies. These skills include first aid, CPR, AED and emergency evacuation.

“The fire department is just down the street. Why should my business assume the cost and liability of an ERT?”


Liability issues are one of the greatest concerns of businesses, and rightly so. One successful law suit can put a small or medium sized company out of business. Fortunately, most states have enacted Good Samaritan laws to protect volunteer providers of emergency assistance, eliminating the risk of liability as long as an individual rescuer’s response was not grossly or willfully negligent, reckless or when the rescuer abandoned the victim after initiating care. Proper hands-on training using recognized programs and annual refresher courses will ensure the emergency responder is aware of not only what to do in an emergency, but what NOT to do as well.

Another big reason that companies decide not to provide emergency response training to employees is that they believe it isn’t needed due to the close proximity of a fire or police station. Here’s a scenario to demonstrate how appearances can be deceiving-

The Acme Company is located approximately one half mile from a fire station. Shortly after beginning the workday, a worker collapses from what appears to be a heart attack.

The clock starts ticking.

Co-workers are not trained to respond, and company policy is to call for EMS due to the close proximity of the fire station. Even though the employee’s collapse was witnessed, at least a minute passes before the situation is recognized as an emergency.

One employee uses their cell phone to call for EMS. Unbeknownst to them, the cell tower their phone connects to is located in the next county- so the emergency operator that answers has to forward their call to the proper dispatch center for your county, costing at least two minutes. Fortunately, another employee also calls 911 using an office phone. The address is given and the nature of the emergency is relayed to the operator- “He just collapsed!”

Elapsed time- 3 to 4 minutes.

Here’s the tricky part. The fire station down the street was commissioned to serve an assigned area, not just your business. They probably aren’t just sitting around waiting for you to call for them, they are out and about answering calls, checking hydrants, and other routine tasks. For this scenario, let’s assume they are finishing up breakfast at the fire station and available for calls. Otherwise, your assistance is coming from another station several miles away. So much for proximity..

Emergency dispatch has determined that “the station down the street” is available to respond, and dispatches the call to them. The scramble starts, and the paramedics race for their truck. Once in their vehicle they obtain the address from dispatch, locate it on the map or enter it into a GPS system.

Elapsed time- 6 minutes.

Rush hour is over, but the streets are still busy. Just because lights are flashing and sirens are blaring doesn’t mean the road is clear. Emergency vehicles must still verify that intersections are clear before charging through a red traffic light. Once they manage to clear the station driveway, there are still two intersections to get through between them and your business. Let’s give them a clear road and green lights for this scenario.

Elapsed time- 8 minutes

Pulling up to your business, the paramedics advise dispatch that they have arrived. They’ve met the department’s goal of a 6 to 7 minute response time, even though they have yet to reach the victim. They now have to decide what equpment they’ll need to carry in. The only information they have at this point is what was given to the emergency operator during the call (“He just collapsed!). Is it a heart attack? Stroke? Diabetic incident? If they don’t know, they have to take anything they might need for all of these. Time to load up the stretcher with all the tech.

Elapsed time- 10 minutes

We’ll assume someone is there to meet the paramedics when they arrive and can guide them to the employee. Once on scene, the paramedics discover that the employee is not breathing and has no pulse.

Elapsed time- 12 minutes.

Twelve minutes.. from “just down the street”. According to studies, the national average ambulance response time in the US is 10 minutes or more. [Occupational Safety & Health, Oct 2003]. The tragic fact is that brain damage begins 4 minutes after Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA). For every minute elapsed after SCA occurs, the chance of survival decreases by 10%.

In the scenario above, using best case criteria-

  • recognition of an emergency in one minute or less
  • nearby station available for response,
  • no traffic,
  • green lights,
  • employee waiting to guide responders,

– it still took twelve minutes for help to arrive at the victim’s side. Having employees trained to perform CPR, and using those skills in this kind of emergency, widens that window of time. It provides those few extra minutes for EMS to arrive and begin life-saving measures.

Regardless of what Hollywood would have everyone believe, CPR alone cannot revive a heart that has stopped beating effectively, such as with SCA. CPR however, does two important things. First, it forces the blood to continue flowing through the body. Second, it gets oxygen to the brain. CPR buys critical time until defibrillation can be performed.

-Ed Sterrett
Central Florida Safety Academy

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Categories: Emergency Response, Safety
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