by Stephen Spencer, M.D., Director, Emergency Medicine, Chestnut Hill Hospital

Sometimes a tragedy awakens our appreciation of the people and things that impact our daily lives. That was the case for many two weeks ago after the Amtrak commuter train derailment. This was quickly recognized as a mass casualty event and first responders — police, firefighters and emergency medical services (EMS) — acted swiftly and decisively to aid the accident victims.

Well-deserved gratitude peaked for these hard working men and women, who often work behind the scenes and go unnoticed. It is important to recognize these essential members of our community who are out there every day saving lives.

One easy way we can all show our appreciation and respect for first responders is by clearing a path for these folks on our roadways and public throughways. By simply pulling to the right-hand side of the road and coming to a stop as quickly as possible when you are driving and see red, flashing lights and/or hear a siren can expedite patient care and make transport to or from the scene safer. This is how you would want drivers to react if you or your loved one were in an ambulance, or needed fire or police services urgently.

As an emergency medicine physician, I am especially aware of the pre-hospital care provided by our local first responders and paramedic squads. In honor of them, and in recognition of National Emergency Medical Services Week (May 17-23), the ER staff at Chestnut Hill Hospital is pleased to host local EMS squads at our annual BBQ.

Awareness of 9-1-1 and its link to immediate help are so ingrained in our society, it’s hard to believe that just a little over 40 years ago, a national EMS system had yet to be established.

Now, as soon as children are old enough to use a phone and understand what “emergency” means, parents teach them to dial 9-1-1. This centralized lifeline to immediate help is an incredible concept that has saved millions of lives.

EMS has expanded and evolved tremendously in this short period of time. Advances in technology and more stringent training requirements have allowed first responders, EMTs (emergency medical technicians), paramedics and registered nurses involved with air-transport (medevac), to provide higher levels of pre-hospital care. As a result, whether it is at the scene of an accident, a pre-hospital medical emergency or an intra-facility transport, their efforts are making the difference between life and death for more people than ever before.

These professionals make our entire emergency healthcare system stronger, and benefit our community through their knowledge, skills and passion to help others. We are grateful for their commitment and fortunate to call them our partners in healthcare.