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Retired EMS Chief explains why chronic back pain brought his career to an abrupt end

Daniel McGuire was a field EMT for 23 years before chronic back problems brought the EMS career he loved to an abrupt end. After two painful failed back operations, doctors ruled out Daniel ever returning to the EMS work he’d enjoyed since high school and the sense of, ‘giving back to his community’.

Daniel started volunteering with Geneseo Fire Department, New York in 1978 and soon found himself looking forward to his next shift and the camaraderie shared with colleagues. His colleagues became his second family; eating together, looking after each other and sharing many experiences – both good and bad.

Daniel’s early days

In the early days of his EMS career, there was no equipment to help lift patients and a gurney that weighed 65lbs. empty. Patients needed to be physically lifted by a minimum of two EMTs, who often had to twist uncomfortably to place a stretcher in an ambulance. The regularity of the lifting and twisting placed incredible stress on the lumber area of the spine and hips, causing most EMTs to complain of aching backs. At the time they felt unable to say anything to superiors for fear of ‘losing face’. They felt if it was revealed they had an injury, others may think they weren’t up to the job.

In 1987 Daniel moved to Henrietta Volunteer Ambulance; a much larger agency with over 5,000 call outs a year. As well as his volunteer work he was a Sales Representative at Eastman Kodak, but much preferred his life now as an EMT- Intermediate. By now, the pain in his back and knees was becoming unbearable and increasingly difficult to manage. He used ice, heat and medication to manage the pain but continued to put patients first – whatever they weighed – and the trauma to his back continued to worsen.

Eventually, surgery was the only solution. After two operations on his spine, Daniel was told his back was too fragile to return to the job he loved and he would never work in the field again. He returned to administrative duties but began to sink into a depressed mood, terribly missing the active EMS field work. He started to notice how the physical and demonstrative stress of the work affected other EMTs and paramedics. The physical pain was only surpassed by emotional pain and marriage breakdowns, chemical dependency and suicides were beginning to rise among the ranks.

Peer support

After Kodak folded 15 years ago, Daniel started to work for himself and founded CISM Perspectives, Inc. (www.cismperspectives.com) in Rochester, New York. His aim is for EMS, Fire and Law Enforcement agencies to make the wellbeing of the EMT the priority and to gain recognition from first level supervisors about the issues a ‘macho EMS culture’ fosters. He is passionate about eliminating the stigma attached to admitting a call has had an adverse effect and talks to agencies, regardless of their size about setting up peer support teams.

Daniel believes that there have been great improvements in equipment provision to better protect the health of the emergency responders, and yet many EMS agencies are slow to promote a culture of safety often due to the overall costs to do so. As someone who is in constant, at times, debilitating pain because there wasn’t the right equipment available when he was a field EMT simply due to such equipment had not been designed/built and emergency responder wellness, especially physical wellness didn’t have the focus it does now. He is an enthusiastic advocate for safe lifting, regularly speaking at conferences across the US.

To find out more about how Mangar can help prevent back pain in the Emergency Services, click here.



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