While on the subject of tactical emergency medical teams, a police lieutenant asked me “What does ERT stand for?” My response, of course, was “Ummmm…. Emergency Response Team…” He gave a light chuckle and said “No. Evidence eRadication Team.” He then simply walked away. This got to me start thinking about some of the things I have done on a medical scene that was also a crime scene. Yup. I have destroyed evidence. I’m sure of it.
When an EMT responds to an injured person, our own safety takes priority. After that, the injured person does. If the person was injured in a manner that involves a crime, however, is the EMT responsible for protecting the crime scene? Along with physical care, EMTs are responsible for mental care. Solving a crime and providing closure to a victim, arguably, could be a treatment for psychological injuries. On top of any form of obligation, there is the creation of a cohesive working environment. When we show up to a report of a gunshot victim, we expect the “cops” to give us a safe scene. If they are slow to respond, or take too long to secure the scene, we EMTs get upset and chide the police. Turn the tables and the police get mad at us for walking over prints, wiping up an attacker’s blood, or cutting clothes apart right through a knife cut.
An EMT must understand what counts as a crime scene if they have any hope of not destroying it. Most police departments would consider anything and everything that may contain physical, chemical, or biological traces from either the offenders or victims, regardless of the current location, as a portion of the crime scene. To protect these items that are easily destroyed, care must be taken to identify potential evidence and avoid disrupting it as much as possible… without sacrificing care to the patient.
Once it is noted that a medical scene could also be a crime scene, EMTs should take care to limit traffic in the area and designate pathways that will cause the least amount of evidence to be destroyed. Caution should be used when setting down Pelican boxes, parking gurneys, and throwing medical trash. If you must expose the patient, take note of blood and other stains, as well as tears or cuts before cutting begins. The removed clothing items should be bagged separately from all other items to protect them from additional contamination. If any items are taken from the scene to the hospital with the patient, the police officer in charge of the crime scene should be notified so that information can be added to the police report if they find it to be relevant.
By working a bit harder to help the police do their job, the police will work harder to make your job easier. Nothing is more frustrating than having the police delay medical care or make it harder to treat a patient. In turn, the police find nothing more frustrating than an EMT who ruins the crime scene. Both are supposed to be professional and, often times, the two professions must support each other. Keeping that in mind, every reasonable effort should be taken to support the guys who keep us from getting shot.