This year’s celebration of National EMS Week takes on additional importance as Richland County’s award-winning crew works on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The annual observance to recognize the emergency medical profession started May 17 and runs through this Saturday, May 23.

While this year’s theme – Ready Today. Preparing for Tomorrow. – was developed before the health crisis, it illustrates how vital EMS crews are to COVID-19 response efforts, while still responding to other community emergencies, such as vehicle accidents and heart attacks.

“Our Richland County EMS crews live up to that standard by preparing themselves on a daily basis through guidance and training for any challenges they may face,” EMS Capt. Winta Adams said.

With a full-time staff of 186, the County’s EMS responds to about 1,500 calls a week; in 2019, that translated to more than 80,000 responses. That level of activity makes maintaining a qualified staff and ensuring crews have the necessary equipment, training and accommodations top priorities.

By taking part in more than 900 special events annually, ranging from University of South Carolina football games to partnerships with local entities, the staff also share community engagement as a priority. Stuff an Ambulance, an annual toy drive for children in need during the holidays, might be EMS’ most well-known campaign.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, staff have seen an increased number of calls related to respiratory illnesses. Crews have taken measures in response: wearing protective gear while responding to calls, constantly sanitizing equipment and regularly sanitizing surface areas at EMS facilities.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is putting our EMS workers at the forefront of the medical response to this emergency,” said Michael Byrd, EMS director. “EMS Week offers us an opportunity to thank EMS workers. Please thank those that have chosen to become EMTs and paramedics. They work hard serving our citizens and visitors every day.”

For its efforts, the department has earned a number of honors from outside organizations since 2019, including: 

• Mission: Lifeline EMS Gold Plus award from the American Heart Association for excellent care of heart attack patients (2019 and 2020)

• Award for Billing Practices from EMS Management and Consultants (2019)

• University of South Carolina First Responder Recognition (2019)

“We are very proud of our paramedics and EMTs and appreciate their hard work,” Adams said.

May 17-23 is the 46th annual National EMS Week. In 1974, President Gerald Ford authorized EMS Week to celebrate EMS practitioners and the important work they do in our nation’s communities.

View a video of Richland County’s EMS crews during the COVID-19 health crisis at https://youtu.be/Rr2bQV7vcps.