WEST DES MOINES, Iowa– Today is National First Responders Day and according to Iowa frontline workers, this has been a difficult year.
Firefighters, police officers, paramedics, and EMT’s were some of the first to be exposed to the virus. Medics say they’ve had to find a new way to keep the workplace safe, but the service consistent.
“We quickly had to take precautions, learn how to alter our response, alter our safety equipment that we wear and deal with providing the same level of patient care that we were before,” West Des Moines Assistant Chief of Emergency Medical Service, David Edgar said.
Assistant Chief Edgar said PPE has been very effective for West Des Moines EMS. According to Edgar, after requiring employees to wear masks while on duty, only five out of 70 medics contracted the virus, and none were fatal.
Iowa first responders say emergency calls have decreased since last year, but COVID-19 has been the primary issue for emergency medical services. The Des Moines Police Department reports that arrests are still consistent with last year’s numbers.
Des Moines Sergeant, Paul Parizek, said there has been a constant stream of negative rhetoric against police officers since the death of George Floyd this summer. Sgt. Parizek said National First Responders Day is an opportunity to show Iowans how committed law enforcement is to protecting citizens.
“This is just an opportunity for folks to just take a moment just to think about what the bare basics of our service are and that you’ve got folks who are committed to putting their lives on the line for you every single day, whether it’s to protect you, your property or the people you love,” Sgt. Parizek said.
However, being a first responder doesn’t just come with a physical health risk.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, it is estimated that 30% of first responders develop behavioral health conditions, such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. That’s compared to 20% of the general population,
Chief Assistant Edgar said it’s important for the public to look at the mental toll these jobs can have on an individual.
“You see a lot of things and then you add on top of it something like an infectious disease that most of us have never really experienced in our career,” Chief Assistant Edgar said. “So I think the stress level of the profession and then thinking about your families and how do I keep them safe kind of all comes together there.”