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Kip Teitsort knows firsthand how dangerous being a paramedic can be. The paramedic for CoxHealth, based out of Ava, has worked in EMS for 22 years.
Paramedics put themselves at risk every time they respond to a call for help. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, EMTs and paramedics are at a higher risk for contracting illnesses or being injured than those in other occupations. Many go into the field without knowing all of the dangers they might encounter.
When Teitsort decided to become a paramedic, he wasn’t focused on the dangers of the job. He thought from the time he was five that he would become a police officer. But when he was 12 something happened to change that…
"My father was electrocuted in South Florida. He lived, but I was the one that dialed 9-1-1, and I was there when it happened. He ran an air conditioning and refrigeration business. And, you know, it severely injured him, and I can just remember calling 9-1-1, and then the paramedics arrived, and it was that point in time that I knew--with the way they took care me. You know, they not only took care of my father but they took care of me. There was just some things that they said and the way that they said it. It changed my perspective right then and there."
Teitsort worked as an EMT for the same service that had helped his father. He’s spent 20 years as a paramedic and as a police officer. But last July, he left the Branson police force to become a full-time paramedic once again.
He says he’s faced more dangers as a paramedic than he did as a police officer.
Paramedics often have to work on the side of a road, they might encounter vicious dogs, they’re at risk of experiencing noise-induced hearing loss from sirens and they are vulnerable to back injuries from lifting patients. But Teitsort says the main threat comes from the people they are called to help…
"The National Association of EMTs did a study in 2005, and they revealed something that was very interesting, which was that 4 out of 5 paramedics or EMTs have been injured on the job, so when you look at those numbers that's a pretty significant number. The number one cause of injury came by way of, believe it or not, of assaults."
He recalls the time his ambulance was carjacked when it was loaded with a patient. It happened in a rural town on highway 63 just north of Rolla. The elderly patient’s daughter was in the passenger seat, and Teitsort was in the back…
"I noticed a person--not my partner--putting the ambulance in drive, and we started going down the road. I'm in the back. So, we're moving--those that are familiar with 63, it's kind of like 65, you know, so imagine being faced the wrong direction on the highway going against traffic in the roadway. And, a million things fly through your head in just a moment. I was still a full-time police officer working at least a day a week on the ambulance, which was why I was there--I was moonlighting on the ambulance, and so I jumped through the crawl space--there's a little crawl space there--and was outstretched on my hands and knees and tried to throw the ambulance up in park. As I did, and it's a loose term if I ever call him gentleman, but the person was committing this crime started punching me in the face, so I was able to get the ambulance up into park. He has the accelerator floored, and I'm screaming at the lady in the passenger seat to shut the ignition off. She is in shock--literally she was in shock so she begins praying out loud, and what seemed like forever, you know, while I'm attempting to do multiple things here outstretched on my knees through a hole, and, again, being punched in the face, my partner comes around and he tries to crawl over the lady. I scream for him to get around to the other side, and he pulls the guy out and then I switched into, you know, like a cop mode, and I can just remember being so angry. My entire career as a police officer I never wanted to hurt anybody. That was never my job, but I remember being overwhelmed with wanting to hurt this person, and then all of a sudden my mind went, 'we don't do that,' and I stopped."
That incident stirred a passion in Teitsort to offer safety training for first responders…
"I think it's actually changed a lot of lives since then so sometimes our trials are really our blessings."
In 1996, he created a course called “Escaping Violent Encounters” which is now taught nationwide. The company he founded that offers it, dt4EMS—which stands for Defensive Tactics for EMS--has 47 trainers, including Tietsort, teaching the course across the country. His goal is to not only improve the safety of paramedics but also of firefighters and EMT’s. According to Tietsort, EMS workers often don’t receive enough training in dealing with those who might try to hurt them…
"The leading cause of injury is assaults but yet we're still not training our people when they enter the field appropriately for that. But yet everywhere I go when I ask the question of "have you ever been scared on the scene that someone was gonna hurt you?' almost every hand in the room everywhere I go will be raised."
The Escaping Violent Encounters course is based on using good customer service. Trainers teach participants how to use proven verbal skills before, during and after an incident. The courses teach the use of physical force as a last resort. Real world skills are also taught to help free EMS workers from violent situations. To find out more about the training, visit dt4ems.com.
The stories in our Sense of Community Series can be found at ksmu.org. For KSMU, I’m Michele Skalicky.