Shoulder to shoulder

Firefighters, ambulance crews team up

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A new collaboration between ambulance crews and firefighters is putting more manpower on the scenes of some of the most dire emergencies.

Now, when The Memorial Hospital's ambulance is paged to help a cardiac arrest victim, Craig Fire/Rescue automatically responds as well.

"We've been having a lot of discussion about how many EMTs there are on the fire department," said Tom Soos, director of Emergency Medical Services at TMH.

The fire department is heavily staffed with trained emergency medical technicians but they rarely get experience with heart attack victims, except in a trauma situations, such as car wrecks.

Yet the medical, sudden-onset cardiac cases require considerable manpower, making it difficult for a 2-person ambulance crew to handle. Before the new agreement, Soos said two ambulances attended these scenes, only because more personnel was required.

But that tied up another ambulance, when really only the people, not the vehicle were needed. Since 13 percent of the ambulance dispatches occurred simultaneously -- when two or more ambulances respond to different emergencies at the same time -- it didn't make sense to continue the practice of sending two ambulances to the same scene. Also, it didn't make sense to staff extra paramedics, since most emergencies can be handled effectively by a 2-person crew.

The solution came when TMH's EMS crew and Craig Fire/Rescue agreed to work together in situations beyond car wrecks and fires.

The busy scene of a cardiac arrest, when the victim is not breathing and has no pulse, properly requires four or five people, Soos said. First responders have to start CPR and IV lines, administer medications, hook up a heart monitor, observe its readout and defibrillate and intubate the patient.

Ambulance crews have to lug medical boxes, heart monitors, IV pumps, oxygen bags, backboards and cots to the scene.

With firefighters on the scene, "Everybody grabs something and life is good. Otherwise, we have our people making several trips," Soos said.

Firefighters with EMT training can begin CPR while ambulance crews begin advanced life support. In the background, others can help with logistical issues, such as moving furniture to clear a pathway, asking questions about the patient's medical history or looking for "do not resuscitate orders" or medications inside the residence.

Soos recalled a recent scenario when firefighters helped "dismantle a bathroom" to reach an unconscious patient.

Craig Fire/Rescue's medical response vehicle, called "Rescue One," is sometimes referred to as the fourth ambulance, according to Chief Roy Mason.

The vehicle carries a defibrillator and other life-saving equipment. The fire department's many EMTs can stabilize victims in the event other ambulances are not available.

The arrangement benefits not only the firefighters and the ambulance crews, but also taxpayers, who may see friends, relatives or themselves in life-threatening emergencies.

"It just makes the whole process a lot more efficient and effective when you have the extra hands, plus more trained medical people on hand," Soos said. "Our people wouldn't be able to do advanced life support as quickly."

It also keeps firefighters sharp. They get first-hand experience with procedures such as starting IVs.

"It's beneficial to them and us, but the person that benefits the most is the patient," Soos said.

Jeremy Browning can be reached at 824-7031 or jbrowning@craigdailypress.com.

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