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Firehouse Medics Valley Firefighters Take Greater Role Responding To Medical Emergencies

When David Fredericks called for help after hurting his wrist last Saturday at Roller Valley Skate Center, he didn’t expect a fire truck to respond.

But when he walked out the front door of the skating rink, he discovered the men helping him had arrived in a shiny red truck with an extending ladder.

“I thought it was kind of odd to bring a big truck out there,” Fredericks said.

The scenario is common throughout the Spokane Valley Fire District. Medical calls have steadily increased over the last several years. So far this year, 62 percent of the calls received by Valley Fire have been for medical aid.

The flood of medical calls created a gap that needed to be filled, said assistant chief Karl Bold. The district responded by improving its medical training.

“There was a demand and we met it,” he said.

The trend is consistent among urban fire districts nationwide, Bold said. Stricter fire safety codes have resulted in fewer fires. This year, only 8 percent of the calls for Valley Fire have involved fires. Structure fires have accounted for only 4 percent.

The district responds to about one fire call a day, and about half of those are for pole, garbage, vehicle or other non-structure fires.

“People are more fire safe, buildings are more fire safe and the codes are stricter,” said Larry Herberholz, paramedic division chief. “There also are not a lot of tall or old buildings in the Valley anymore.”

Bold also attributed the decrease in fire

calls to the district’s fire prevention program, which provides safety inspections and teaches fire safety units at Valley elementary schools.

“I think it’s finally starting to pay us dividends,” Bold said. “Our fire calls are way down from what they were a few years ago.”

So are Valley Fire dispatchers sending fire trucks out on medical calls so the trucks don’t collect dust? That’s not the case, fire officials said.

When an emergency call comes in, Valley Fire dispatches the vehicle closest to the place where help is needed. Because Valley Fire has eight fire trucks and just two paramedic trucks, the vehicle that responds to the call is most often a fire trucks.

The goal is to have emergency personnel on the scene within 4 minutes, Herberholz said. But if they are not the first out, paramedic trucks and ambulances are usually on the scene within 8 minutes.

The district’s 20 paramedics work in pairs on the paramedic trucks and by themselves on some of the fire trucks.

“If we get the first responder and paramedics on scene in a timely manner, the ambulance becomes less critical,” Herberholz said.

A Spokane Ambulance crew frequently waits for calls at Valley Fire Station No. 6 or at Valley Hospital and Medical Center, but could have to come from the city.

All of the district’s 112 firefighters are trained as emergency medical technicians. Firefighters attend classes and test their skills monthly to keep their EMT certification.

At the scene, EMTs assess the situation, gather patient history and take vital signs. They use the information to decide if paramedics are needed. The EMTs then assist the paramedics once they arrive.

When dispatchers received Fredericks’ call, a fire truck was the closest available vehicle. The truck, carrying EMTs, arrived at the skating rink within minutes to assist Fredericks. The Valley Fire EMTs only had time to gather Fredricks’ medical history before an ambulance crew arrived and treated him for a broken wrist.

If the injury is life threatening, all of Valley Fire’s trucks are equipped with automatic external defibrillator. The machines walk EMTs through the procedure for analyzing and shocking a patient’s heart if they need to perform the procedure before paramedics arrive.

EMTs are also trained to handle assisted breathing situations and deliver babies, but cannot start an IV and do not carry medications.

“EMTs can do most of the jobs,” Herberholz said. “They are doing some pretty sophisticated things on scene.”

Five more firefighters are scheduled to complete their paramedic training by the end of the year, but there still won’t be enough paramedic trucks to send to every medical call.

That means that when someone calls Valley Fire for medical aid, help will arrive in a shiny red fire truck.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo



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