It is a common theme in my discussions with both emergency medical services professionals and 911 dispatchers. Their friends, who are not first responders, ask the same question. It is a question that is asked repeatedly. Are you ready? The question is: “What is your worst call you have been on as an EMT or paramedic?” Or…”What is the worst call you have taken as a dispatcher?
May I answer for these professionals? Here is a really good initial answer. You don’t want to know. You don’t want to hear about their worst call. You would be horrified by some of their stories. In other instances, you might actually experience secondary trauma. The things they witness cannot be unseen. The screams from parents who have lost a child cannot be unheard. The smells and sounds are unforgettable. You really don’t want to know.
Secondly, the calls dispatchers receive and the runs for service EMS personnel make involve real people with real families. The tragedy those they serve should never be material for a good story later. As I told a group of chaplains in a training event recently, I do share stories of traumatic events. But, I share those stories strictly for the purpose of helping those are inclined to serve in this field to be better equipped for the next event. I find the telling of “war stories” to be offensive when it’s not done with sensitivity to the people who were most impacted. Should another person’s tragedy ever be a source of entertainment to feed our morbid curiosity?
Thirdly, you are asking a professional to relive the worst days on the job. Do you really think they go home and sleep well after doing CPR on a small child who has been underwater for nearly an hour? How do you think it feels to have a person in extreme distress be on the other end of the line when receiving a 911 call?
I have a suggestion for a new question that you can actually pose to all first responders. I would include police officers and firefighters in this one. Why not ask this question: “How can I be most supportive of you in your professional role?” And, why not precede the question with this statement: “I really appreciate your service…”
I have been on many difficult scenes with all first responders over the past 29 years. I actually know which calls would be categorized as my “worst.” But, I am absolutely convinced you really don’t want to hear about any of them…
29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.