Helping first responders avoid on-the-job injuries

A collaboration with an athletic trainer who encourages stretches and preventative measures is keeping emergency responders safer on the job.

Lancaster Emergency Medical Services responds to more than 47,000 requests for service each year, treating patients who have experienced everything from car accidents to cardiac arrest.

EMS providers spend their days—and nights—taking care of others. Many suffer back and other injuries of their own, especially if utilizing improper techniques to move or lift patients.

Ann Seaton seated in the back of an ambulance.
Ann Seaton is an athletic trainer employed by Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health Physicians Sports Medicine. (Image: Courtesy of Penn Medicine News)

It is understandable that avoiding injury to themselves is of secondary concern as they race to navigate cluttered spaces or unsafe situations, lifting patients who are larger in size or in awkward positions, such as on the floor or in a bathtub. In addition, many EMS providers may be a bit reluctant to seek their own medical care.

“It’s a difficult job, both physically and mentally,” says deputy chief Jerry Schramm, Lancaster EMS director of operations. “In general, we’re kind of a stoic bunch. Most of the time, we put our heads down and trudge through it.”

Schramm found a novel approach to injury prevention by connecting with Ann Seaton, an athletic trainer employed by Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health Physicians Sports Medicine. While similar partnerships are more common in larger cities and other areas of the country, both believe she is the first athletic trainer to work with a public safety agency in Pennsylvania.

Seaton trains EMS providers on how to move and lift patients safely, often riding along on ambulances to observe their form and make real-time suggestions. She also evaluates and treats those who are injured, with the ultimate goal of keeping them out of her office—or any medical office.

“I’ve learned that EMS is a full-body experience,” Seaton recently told a group of new hires. “I’m here to help you do your job more safely. And if you do get hurt, I’m here to help you get better and get back to work.”

In her education sessions, Seaton reviews safe lifting techniques, such as using the leg muscles, which are stronger than the back. She also emphasizes the importance of a healthy lifestyle, including regular strength training, cardio and adequate rest, and taking frequent breaks to stretch and move around while on the job.

In addition to providing education, Seaton encourages physical activity with short videos she calls “Stretching with Seaton.” Along with those who are hurt on the job, she works with staff members whose injuries aren’t necessarily work-related, including an EMT who broke a foot in a skateboarding accident.

Riding along on the agency’s fleet of 57 vehicles allows her to see staff members in action and offer feedback. While it is not her primary purpose, when she witnesses difficult situations, such as a combative patient or verbal abuse, she connects those providers with mental-health resources that can help, a personal passion of hers.

This story is by Mary Beth Budnyk. Read more at Penn Medicine News.