Train To Serve: Preventing The Top Reasons For Calling 9-1-1

What paramedics want you to know about why they’re most often called—and how you can keep these health predicaments on hold.

Think your desk job is high stress? Paramedics treat burns, poisonings, and overdoses. They help victims of violent crimes, assess emergency childbirth, and manage psychiatric meltdowns. They handle heart attacks, strokes, seizures, and respiratory issues.

Paramedics are the first line of defense when it comes to outside care—they go into your home and bring the healthcare system to you by starting IVs and administering medication. They must also function as social service workers and psychiatric screeners in those same chaotic settings.

Talk about a tough day at the office.

Some of these crises and injuries are unavoidable; many are self-inflicted. Not wearing your seatbelt, not taking your meds, or shrugging off signs of fatigue can turn a manageable situation into a 9-1-1 call.

Let's take a look at some main reasons paramedics are called, and how to best avert an unnecessary crisis:

1. Cardiac-Related Calls

The Reason

Not surprisingly, cardiac-related calls top the EMS charts. According to the Centers for Disease Control, heart disease caused almost 1 in every 4 deaths in the United States in 2008.

The Solution

When it comes to heart disease and heart attacks, heredity and high blood pressure can be managed. It might seem simple, but the easiest way to keep your ticker healthy: cardio.

"When your blood is circulating and moving around, it's less likely to form little tiny clots in your body," says Fire Lieutenant Rommie L. Duckworth, licensed paramedic and EMS coordinator at Ridgefield Fire Department in Connecticut.

Another Line Of Defense

Eating a heart-healthy diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. "Improper diet can cause an accumulation of excess "bad" fats, which in turn cause blockages in blood vessels," says Yael Nelson, a paramedic in Newark, New Jersey, pretty much a combat zone for EMTs.

And weight, it matters. A 2007 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine reported that moderately overweight individuals had a 32 percent increased risk of heart disease compared to those in a healthy weight range. That risk factor jumped to 81 percent in the obese.

2. Motor Vehicle Accidents

The Reason

Though they're often lumped into the larger category of traumatic injuries—which includes all bumps, bruises, sprains and breaks, plus anything from falls to collisions and sports injuries—motor vehicle accidents are the number-one cause of death in people under the age of 35. Worst of all, they're easily preventable.

The Solution

Put down the phone. Your friend or mom would rather leave a message than attend your funeral. According to, the official U.S. government website for distracted driving, 18 percent of injury crashes in 2010 were reported as distraction-affected crashes, and drivers who used hand-held devices were four times more likely to incur injuries from car crashes.

Another Key Cause

Drowsy driving. "Juggling work, families, hobbies, education, and whatever life throws at you can certainly be tiring, but sleep is not one of the areas that should be neglected," says Nelson.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 100,000 police-reported crashes are the direct result of driver fatigue each year, resulting in an estimated 1,500 deaths; 71,000 injuries; and $12.5 billion in monetary losses.

3. Respiratory Problems

The Reason

"Breathing problems were the number one cause of paramedics providing advanced life support care in the urban environment I work in," says Nelson.

"Poor air quality, seasonal allergies, mold, dust, and adverse weather such as extreme cold, heat, or humidity can all trigger asthma attacks."

The Solution

Listen to what your body is telling you, and don't assume that feeling well today means it's okay to forgo doctor-recommended meds. Putting your body in a weaker state could be enough to put you at risk.

"A person who skips lunch and goes on that extra run will be extra tired and dehydrated," says Duckworth. "Now, when their asthma flares up, what they could normally handle with a puff of their inhaler needs a paramedics assistance."

Carrying medication and rescue inhalers with you and keeping up with your current prescriptions is key to keeping asthma in check.

And remember, a good offense is the best defense. Working out can help improve lung function and the lungs' ability to compensate for the inflammation, and staying hydrated is key.

Try cutting your sports drinks with water to replenish your electrolytes while limiting sugar intake.

4. Strokes

The Reason

Someone in the U.S. dies from a stroke every 3.3 minutes. The same risk factors that affect heart disease come into play.

"Much like the heart, the blood vessels of the brain are fragile and when poor diet or poor health habits become the norm, those blood vessels can either become blocked, or burst," says Nelson.

The Solution

It's pretty straightforward: To reduce your risk, eat healthfully and exercise.

Poor diet, a sedentary lifestyle, and smoking lead to high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and blood vessel disease—all brain killers.

5. Cold/Cough/Flu/Pneumonia/Seasonal Illnesses

The Reason

Another frequent problem paramedics encounter is cold, cough, and flu-like symptoms, particularly when symptoms worsen into problems like bronchitis and pneumonia.

"These illnesses and associated breathing problems made up the largest percentage of patients that paramedics in our city saw over the last two years," says Nelson.

The Solution

Support your immune system by getting sufficient sleep. A 2009 study from Carnegie Mellon University found that people who slept less than seven hours a night were about three times more likely to get a cold than people who slept eight hours or more.

"Your body recovers and regenerates while you're sleeping, and being sleep-deprived doesn't only cause you to feel rundown and sluggish, but it cheats your body out of the valuable time it uses to build and replenish your natural defense system," says Nelson.

Another Tip

Trade in unnecessary antibiotics for herbal alternatives like a solution of distilled mullein leaf, which has been shown to soothe and promote the healing of mucus membranes like those found in the lungs.