Columbus Fire Department will use $220,000 for overtime to cover for firefighters who are training as paramedics this year.
The goal is to have enough firefighter paramedics trained to staff all six fire stations on all shifts, every day of the year.
Eleven firefighters began training as paramedics in January, according to Mike Kutsko, the fire department’s deputy chief for emergency medical services.
The planning for their training began about a year ago after Mayor Kristen Brown announced the city’s goal to have a paramedic firefighter responding with every engine on every shift, every day.
In her State of the City address this year, Brown said the move will “ensure optimal victim survivability” and that it represents significant progress in the city’s emergency services.
That means fire department paramedics will arrive at scenes faster to start more extensive lifesaving procedures than if firefighters had to wait for an ambulance to arrive from Columbus Regional Hospital, Fire Chief Dave Allmon said. Also, more paramedics can be on scene to handle a situation once an ambulance does arrive, he said.
On Tuesday, the Columbus City Council approved moving the money for the overtime from riverboat casino taxes received through the county to the fire department’s general fund. Council members also approved that transfer to pay for an increase in the allowed amount of unscheduled overtime for firefighters from $145,529 to $365,529.
Allmon said that increase means the fire department can afford to pay firefighters overtime when necessary to cover shifts so the 11 men training to be paramedics can give “undivided attention” to their training, Allmon said.
Those firefighters are completing a seven-month program, with classes ending in late August or early September, he said. After they complete their classes, he said, they must pass nationally developed written and practical tests before beginning work for the department as paramedics.
If all goes well, Allmon said, the department could have more paramedics by mid-October, increasing the number from 19 to 30.
After that, those firefighters will be able to provide more than the basic first aid they already are trained to give, Allmon said.
They’ll be able to administer medicine, use diagnostic tools and perform more involved procedures, such as artificial ventilation and advanced cardiac life support after arriving with the fire engine, he said.
That can make a big difference for someone who previously would have had to wait extra time for an ambulance to arrive, Allmon said.
“In essence, you’re bringing the emergency room to the patient” by having a paramedic on the scene, he said.
Currently, the department has a paramedic on one engine every day for all shifts, as required by the state, Allmon said. But that means the other five fire engines don’t have one for every shift, he said, leaving the possibility of a fire engine arriving on the scene with a paramedic up to chance — and that simply isn’t fair, he added.
Having additional firefighters trained as paramedics will mean that every engine can have a paramedic every day, he said. The fire chief said that will increase safety for citizens and visitors alike.