First responders regularly receive accolades in the news and on social media for their heroic, life-saving efforts.

As a nurse, have you ever wondered if you can count yourself in this group?

Read on to discover the answer from both legal and popular opinion standpoints.

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Are Nurses First Responders?

The term first responders generally refer to firefighters, police officers, EMTs, and paramedics who arrive first to an emergency scene. The scope of practice for a nurse is usually quite different compared to these individuals. However, in some instances, nurses may be first to an emergency scene.

What Is the Legal Definition of First Responder?

It is difficult to pinpoint an exact definition for a first responder.

According to a report from the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP), federal law does not specifically name who a first responder is.

Rather federal law refers to them merely as any emergency response provider in a governmental or nongovernmental capacity who provides public safety, fire control, law enforcement or medical responses.

What About Emergency Room Nurses?

This somewhat fuzzy definition may lead you to wonder if working as a nurse in an emergency room puts you firmly in the category of first responder.

However, more colloquially, emergency room nurses are usually not considered to be first responders as they do not come directly to an emergency scene outside the hospital setting.

In addition, there are major differences between the scope of practice for a nurse and a paramedic.

While emergency room nurses are incredible at providing life-saving care in the hospital, they typically do not have the training in hazardous materials response, mass casualty triage, and similar topics.

However, there are some cases in which nurses may choose to take additional courses to provide care as a registered nurse in an ambulance.

While this pre-hospital registered nurse certification is only available in certain states, it is well-liked by some nurses who thrive in challenging environments.

What About Nurses Responding to Codes?

If you work as a critical care charge nurse as I did or are another nursing member of the code team at your hospital, you may wonder if this could qualify you to be called a first responder.

While you are technically a first responder to the situation unfolding in your facility, you are not a first responder in the truest sense of the term.

First responders are generally considered to be those who respond to events out in the field before patients are transported to the hospital.

In some cases, you may even be responding to non-patients in a hospital setting who collapse and require emergency care.

In this case, you do not have to call paramedics but can instead begin CPR and other treatment as a trained nurse.

While you can feel good about arriving first to the scene, you would not typically be considered a first responder in the legal sense of the word.

The Difference in State Laws

While federal law is a bit unclear about first responders, certain states have laws that make the definition somewhat clearer.

It is important that you understand the laws specific to your state so that you can respond safely and correctly in any emergency scenario.

For example, Arkansas state law only refers to law enforcement individuals, firefighters, and EMTs who are deployed to disaster zones, terrorist attacks, and other emergencies as first responders.

However, in California, a first responder refers to anyone who provides an emergency response or first aid either as part of his job or in a volunteer capacity.

What Does It Mean for You?

Depending on your state of residence and licensure, you may occasionally find yourself providing emergency care as a first responder or as a volunteer.

However, you will rarely be a first responder in the course of your nursing job.

While you can take great joy in knowing just how much you are doing to promote your patients’ level of health even in life-threatening circumstances, you can probably not refer to yourself as a first responder in the typically understood sense and cash in on the special discounts that first responders are sometimes offered from various local businesses.

Instead, realize just how much you are doing to promote good health in your community and leave the freebies for others.

Final Thoughts

Although you may not be an official first responder by legal definition, your job as a nurse certainly lets you provide life-saving care.

Find the right nursing job for you based on your experience and skills by searching our job database today.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Emergency room nurses are not first responders because they work in the ER of a hospital and are not first to respond to a scene of an emergency.

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