When a Co-Worker is Intoxicated

by on October 22, 2009

in Operations

Have you ever suspected that a co-worker is intoxicated? Has a co-worker boasted to you that they left the bar just a few hours before their shift started? The consequences of an intoxicated employee can be deadly to the person, your patients, and to you.

This is what I have done when I suspect a co-worker is intoxicated or under the influence and we are not providing patient care.

1. Immediately contact my supervisor by phone or face-to-face report. Without delay since we might be paged to a call at any moment.

2. After contacting my supervisor for our unit to be out-of-service until I ask the supervisor for advice on what, if anything, I should say to my co-worker.

3. Fill out documentation provided by supervisor/HR department about the incident. Remember to document behaviors you observed and statements your co-worker made.

Fortunately,  I have not been in a situation where we were traveling to a call, caring for a patient, or transporting a patient with an intoxicated co-worker. Have you? I would like to think that would be a very rare situation that I will never encounter. If I was in this situation this is what I would do.

1. Immediately relieve the co-worker of any patient assessment or care duties. If out of the vehicle, I would ask the co-worker to return to vehicle to wait for me.

2. Request assistance from other emergency responders on-scene to continue to assist with patient care.

3. Contact a field supervisor and/or my agency dispatch center as soon as practically possible.

4. Consider my options for transporting the patient. At this point we would not have a complete crew. I would request advice from the supervisor for guidance on initiating transport with a police or firefighter driver and a single paramedic on board or waiting for another transport unit.

What would you do? Talking and thinking through what-if situations like this will help prepare you for incidents that we hope are unrealistic, but tragically do happen.


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  • Timothy Clemans

    After hearing about the incident involving an impaired driver of an ambulance killing several I don’t let someone drive impaired. I was once in a car with a driver who attempted to make a phone call without a headset while driving. I immediately told him to pull over to the side of the road to make the call. I explained to him that making phone calls while driving is extremely risky and also illegal in my state. He actually thanked me for caring so much about our safety.

    If I was an EMT in the passenger seat of an ambulance being driven by an impaired driver I would do everything I could to get the driver out of the driver seat until he or she was sent home. If she or he didn’t stop driving the unit I would leave the unit and make sure dispatch and supervisor(s) were aware of the problem immediately.

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  • Doug Gadomski

    I’ve unfortunately seen it first hand. I handled the situation pretty much as you describe… and then felt bad for years afterward because it cost my partner that day her job. It seemed really tragic at the time, but the net result was incredibly positive. I ran into her years later and was ready to duck when she gave me a big hug and thanked me for initiating a chain of events that got her life back on track! My advice: don’t be afraid of hurting feelings, even ending careers. Do the right thing (looking at the big picture) and be a real friend.

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  • http://www.lifeunderthelights.com Ckemtp

    Greg, I started to leave a long and worthwhile comment here about the dangers and issues faced by emergency services workers dealing with alcohol and/or drugs in the workplace.

    Then I realized that I’d written about 1000 words and I should use this as a post for myself. I only get so many good ideas per week, you know.

    You’ve been linked. Great post and great issue to explore.

  • http://www.everydayemstips.com Greg Friese

    Thanks for the comments. Remembering the patient is more important (and our own life) than protecting a co-worker’s job is a great reminder. Doug at the time did you get pressured from co-workers for “ratting” someone out? I can imagine in some workplaces there is a lot of peer pressure to protect co-workers from deserved discipline.

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  • Doug Gadomski

    I still clearly remember the shocked looked on everyone’s face when I walked out of the supervisor’s office and into the crew quarters… I didn’t know what to expect, but nobody ever gave me any grief about it. She was a popular staff member, very talented and certainly missed after her departure. I suppose her problem was one of those “elephants in the room” that everyone recognizes but had been afraid to talk about. We all have a way of rationalizing the behavior of those close to us and too often it can go unchecked until it becomes a large (and sometimes tragic) problem.

  • Doug Gadomski

    I've unfortunately seen it first hand. I handled the situation pretty much as you describe… and then felt bad for years afterward because it cost my partner that day her job. It seemed really tragic at the time, but the net result was incredibly positive. I ran into her years later and was ready to duck when she gave me a big hug and thanked me for initiating a chain of events that got her life back on track! My advice: don't be afraid of hurting feelings, even ending careers. Do the right thing (looking at the big picture) and be a real friend.

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