By Andy Hallman, Ledger news editor
A major change is in store that should decrease the time residents have to wait for medical treatment in an emergency.
For many years, the first emergency personnel to treat Fairfield residents have been either ambulance staff or members of Libertyville Quick Response Service, because Fairfield did not have its own emergency medical technicians. That will change Tuesday when EMTs on the Fairfield Fire Department will begin responding to medical calls.
That?s significant because it means those firefighters can begin providing medical treatment before the ambulance arrives, and in a life-threatening emergency, every second counts. For instance, brain cells begin dying after just one minute without oxygen, and irreversible brain damage occurs after 10 minutes, according to spinalcord.com.
Almost triple the calls
Mark Brown, one of the fire department?s three fulltime drivers and one of its eight EMTs, said the department will probably respond to about 800 more calls per year than the 300 it does now. What?s more, the department has not asked the city council for any more money to cover those extra hours. The only expense it?s asked the city to cover is purchasing a pickup truck for the EMTs to take to the scene.
?Our firemen get a quarterly stipend, and they?re not getting anything extra for responding to the extra calls,? Brown said. ?[The firefighters] talked about it, and we decided we want to help the community as much as we can. We feel like we can do that better by adding a medical response.?
The other seven firefighters in the program are fulltime drivers Jason Crandall and Brad Waugh, plus Bob Lathrop, Adam Melcher, Chris Kenly, Justin Bonnett and Ryan Holthus.
Six of the firefighters are already certified, and the other two have to pass their final exam after completing instruction.
Brown said that, about 20 percent of the time, an ambulance will be summoned to an accident scene, but none of them are available because they?re responding to other calls. In that case, Libertyville QRS responds to the scene. Now, Fairfield EMTs will respond instead.
?We haven?t had a first responder group that has covered the middle of the county for some time,? Brown said.
Jefferson County QRS was once a separate organization that responded to emergencies when the ambulance requested aid, but that disbanded about 15 years ago.
?This is completely new,? Brown said.
?The fire department has never responded to medical calls before.?
The fire department has assisted on medical calls for years, such as cutting open vehicles with the Jaws of Life to free drivers trapped inside. But it always left medical treatment to other first responders. The firefighters were only certified to perform CPR on victims.
Brown said the firefighters wanted to help the community, and saw a need for EMTs. When dispatch has to summon Libertyville QRS to a call in Fairfield, those responders not only have to leave their job but must also report to the Libertyville Fire Station before heading out. In contrast, Fairfield will have firefighters at its fire station who can respond to the call immediately. Brown mentioned that the ambulance normally sends two people to an accident, but sometimes more are required.
?There could be multiple occupants [in each car at an accident], and even if they have two ambulances available, they?ll only bring four people,? Brown said. ?When you have more patients than what the ambulance can handle, they?re not getting the quality of care they deserve. We were always there, but we couldn?t help beyond CPR because we weren?t EMTs.?
How will EMTs help?
EMTs can treat any kind of bleeding, shock, and allergic reaction. They will carry an automated external defibrillator to resuscitate patients whose heart has stopped.
?We can control their airway to make sure they?re getting oxygen to their lungs,? Brown said. ?If the ambulance is on another call, that person could be deceased before they get there. We would be able to offer another tier of response.?
The EMTs will not take the place of the ambulance. The ambulance service will still be responsible for transporting patients to the hospital. Driver Brad Waugh mentioned that the EMTs will help the ambulance transport the patients more quickly, because they can perform preliminary medical treatment that would otherwise need to be done by ambulance staff.
The one EMT who is always at the fire station will arrive on the scene first. The other EMTs will assist as soon as they can. If the EMT on duty at the station is called away, another firefighter will go to the station to ensure it is manned in case of a fire call.
To become EMTs, the firefighters took a sixth-month class through Indian Hills Community College that met twice a week for four hours each time. They also did 70 hours of clinical study where they job shadowed doctors in an emergency room or rode along in an ambulance.