Leader Blues

Monday, November 26, 2007

TOP STORY >>Fire chief: Funding will save vehicles

By JOAN MCCOY
Leader staff writer

A large fire engine with sirens blaring as it races to the scene of a medical emergency is a fairly common sight in Cabot. When a resident calls 911 for an ambulance, the nearest fire engine also rolls and more often than not gets there first.
Cabot firefighters are trained as emergency medical technicians and their fire trucks are stocked with lifesaving equipment. In fact, the fire department is written into the contract as the first responder assisting MEMS, which provides ambulance service in the city as well as to much of central Arkansas.

But many members of the Cabot City Council are concerned that running expensive fire fighting equipment for medical emergencies is hard on the equipment and an unnecessary expense to the city. In response to that concern, Fire Chief Phil Robinson has asked for $15,000 in his budget for a pickup equipped for medical emergencies. It is not possible to stop running first response for ambulance service, he says, because too many times the paramedics need their help.

The Leader talked to other fire departments to find out why the chief is so adamant about backing up the ambulance service and learned that his position on the matter is the same as many fire departments in the area, the state and across the nation. When minutes waiting for an ambulance to get across town can mean the difference between life and death, firefighters drive whatever vehicle is available to get to the patient sooner.

“We can get there a whole lot quicker and start working on the patient,” said North Little Rock Fire Department Capt. Bobby Higdon. Most fire stations have only two bays, one for a pumper and one for a ladder truck, he said, so most fire stations don’t have a rescue truck. If they do, the firefighters use it. If not, they drive a pumper.

All North Little Rock firefighters are at least trained as EMTs Higdon said, and some are trained as parmedics. All know how to use defibrillators and can get a heart beating again before the ambulance even gets there.

In Jacksonville, the fire department runs the ambulance service, so the firefighter who puts out the fire in your kitchen one week might well be the paramedic who comes to your aid next week.

Battalion Chief Joe Bratton said all firefighters are trained to also work on the ambulance and they cycle from one job to the other.

So one week they might be the ambulance driver and the next week they might be the firefighter in a pumper truck who is the first on the scene to assist a patient with chest pains.

“If someone is two blocks away having a heart attack, it just makes sense for the fire department to respond,” he said.
Bratton said the Jacksonville Fire Department has run the ambulance service since 1980 when it took over from the police department, which started the service in 1976.

Volunteer fire departments, like those in Beebe, Ward and Austin also provide medical assistance and run as first responders to supplement ambulance services in their areas.