Responding to medical emergencies

By Miriam King, Bradford Times

New firefighter Brian Donnelly displays the contents of the Trauma Bag carried aboard fire trucks in Bradford. Miriam King/Bradford Times/Postmedia Network

New firefighter Brian Donnelly displays the contents of the Trauma Bag carried aboard fire trucks in Bradford. Miriam King/Bradford Times/Postmedia Network

The number and nature of calls to Bradford West Gwillimbury Fire & Emergency Services have been changing.

Medical calls have increased “significantly” in the last few years, says Deputy Fire Chief Olaf Lamerz – partly the result of the Fire service's defined role in Simcoe County's tiered response.

Firefighters don't answer every medical call, but under a county-wide Emergency Response agreement, are expected to respond to calls for choking/not breathing, profuse bleeding, cardiac arrest, chest pain and acute shortness of breath, convulsions and seizures.

The protocols require a higher level of training and preparedness.

“It used to be, you had your Standard first aid and CPR, and you were good to go,” Lamerz notes. Now, staff  are expected to be at the higher Emergency First Responder level, trained in a wider range of procedures – and that includes the service's volunteers.

“One of the significant challenges that poses in a composite department (consisting of both full-timers and volunteers) is maintaining the consistency,” Lamerz says. The department has extended its medical training to the volunteers, “so we can maintain that level of service no matter who responds.”

The service has  also seen the addition of several new “tools”  on board its fire trucks, to make the medical response more effective. Last year, BWG fire trucks began carrying epipens, for both adults and children, to be used to treat anaphylactic shock in case of severe allergic reaction.

Finger pulse oximeters were added, allowing firefighters to measure blood oxygen levels before providing oxygen to victims – information that is important for Paramedics to know, when they take over a case.

And this year, Fire & Emergency Services have added Naloxone nasal sprays, arming firefighters to deal with possible opioid overdoses  - “a simple intervention which people can be trained to do very easily,” Lamerz says.

“We're bridging the gap,” says acting Fire Captain Ian Poot. “Geographically, we have the ability to be at a lot of calls faster than paramedics.” The additional training and the new medical equipment mean that once on scene,  “now we have the ability to do something to mitigate, rather than just standing there.”

Lamerz notes the Fire service fills a gap between the scene of an emergency and the hospital, working closely with paramedics to provide care, to ensure the best possible outcomes. “It's really important for us to maximize what we can do,” he says.

How does the department determine what tools and training are appropriate? Lakeridge Health provides  medical oversight to the fire service and, based on actual calls and local statistics, determines “what other tools the staff will need to do their job that much better – the best level of care we can provide to our customers, who are the residents of Bradford West Gwillimbury,” Lamerz says.

“At the end of the day, it's helping the public,” Poot  adds.

Police are called to criminal occurrences, Paramedics are called for medical emergencies, “the fire service gets called to everything else,” says Lamerz – but there's no way of knowing, until on scene, just what a call will entail. Something that starts as a fire call or collision extrication is just as likely to involve injury and  the need for medical response. “In a lot of these situations,  it can be life or death.”

“What isn't medical related? Any time you go to a scene, there's the possibility of injury,” agrees Poot.

And thanks to their new training and expanded “tool box,” BWG's firefighters will be prepared.