Working towards wellness: Lessons from 9/11 paramedics and emergency medical technicians for Australian ambulance services
School of Medical and Health Sciences
The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, otherwise known as 9/11, on the World Trade Center in New York City killed 2753 people, including approximately 413 first responders. Some 7000 responders are currently enrolled in the World Trade Center Health Program with illnesses related to their exposure to 9/11, and over 2000 have had to retire on 9/11-related disability. The impact of 9/11 is extensive and ongoing.
This research used qualitative methods to interview a cohort of 54 paramedics and emergency medical technicians who responded to 9/11. These interviews occurred around the 15-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks. The objective of the research was to explore the long-term physical and mental health impact on the responding paramedics and emergency medical technicians and to investigate key influences on wellness. Information pertaining to ongoing impact, wellness and ideas for effective ambulance wellness programs were extrapolated through thematic analysis.
Seven key lessons for paramedic wellness were identified. These included: the need to understand the paramedic workforce and the key influences on their health and wellbeing; the importance of engaging staff in the development-phase of wellness strategies; avoiding silo-approaches to physical and mental health; providing ongoing professional development opportunities; providing tools for effective peer-to-peer communication; including family members in wellness initiatives; and not forgetting the retiring workforce.
This research makes an important new contribution to the existing knowledge base at a time when Australian ambulance services are currently developing wellness strategies to improve the physical and psychosocial wellness of the pre-hospital workforce.