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Columbus soon will have firefighter/paramedics on duty on every city fire engine, around the clock, under a $300,000 training program for city firefighters that goes into effect next year, city officials said.
The money, included by Mayor Kristen Brown in next year’s budget, will allow the city fire department to train 10 more paramedics. With the 18 already working on fire engines, the city will be able to place firefighters certified in advanced life-support techniques on all six engines at all times, she said.
“It basically turns all of our fire engines into rolling emergency rooms,” Brown said. “This is all about increasing our lifesaving emergency medical services, dramatically increasing our capability.”
Since fire trucks usually arrive on the scene of medical emergencies faster than Columbus Regional Hospital ambulances, that should provide better chances for city residents to survive, Brown said.
While there are four CRH ambulances dedicated to emergency runs, they also must serve the entire county and have more calls to respond to than city fire trucks do. The city has six engines with advanced life-support equipment at its six fire stations, all serving the city.
All of the city’s 94 firefighters are trained as emergency medical technicians with knowledge of basic lifesaving techniques, but only paramedics can administer medicine, use diagnostic tools or perform more involved procedures, said Mike Wilson, a firefighter/paramedic with the department.
“When we arrive on scene, from our training and the diagnostic tools that we have, we can initiate a specific treatment for a specific situation that you would otherwise have to wait for,” Wilson said. “It is a lot of responsibility, but it is so rewarding.”
Fire Chief Dave Allmon said that while a medic is qualified to follow a short, basic checklist and provide basic first aid, paramedics actually can begin medical treatment before the patient reaches the hospital.
Wilson gave an example of an emergency medical call that came in last month of a woman having trouble breathing at a home on California Street.
The engine with advanced life-support equipment and a paramedic arrived on the scene before the ambulance, and the paramedic quickly diagnosed the patient’s illness as respiratory failure caused by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. From the training, the paramedic knew what medicine to administer and the woman’s life was saved, Wilson said. She was taken to Columbus Regional Hospital and later released.
Brown said that even in instances where the ambulance does reach the scene first, having an extra firefighter/paramedic on scene can help the patient.
American Medical Association guidelines recommend two paramedics and two EMTs to optimally administer advanced lifesaving techniques, she said.
Each CRH ambulance is staffed with a single paramedic and an EMT.
Wilson said the extra hands are also helpful when emergency crews respond to traffic accidents with multiple victims.
The city has had the life-support equipment on fire engines since 2006. Although there are enough firefighters on payroll now to fully staff the engines with paramedics under optimal conditions and most of the time, the city has gaps when there are sicknesses or vacations, Allmon said.
“If no one is on vacation or no one is sick, that means we have a paramedic on every engine, 24-7,” Allmon said.
The addition of 10 more paramedics allows the department to be fully staffed with paramedics despite vacations, sicknesses and training sessions.
Seven months of training led by a Bloomington firm will be conducted in the basement of Fire Station 2 on Tuesdays and Wednesdays with all 10 firefighters participating, said Mike Kutsko, deputy chief of emergency medical services for the Columbus Fire Department.
Kutsko said the department researched other paramedic-training institutions, such as Ivy Tech Community College, and concluded that the mass-training approach was the most economical and fastest.
The firefighters will be considered to be at work during the two days of training each week and will work their normal shifts while out of class. Required clinical hours will be performed on the firefighters’ own time, Kutsko said.
The last time the fire department held paramedic training was a two-year-long course that began in 2006, Kutsko said.
After the new paramedics are trained, the department plans to train one or two firefighters a year to replace for those who retire and to eventually reach a goal of having half the department trained as paramedics. With 18 paramedics on regular shifts on engines, and two paramedics in the administration, about 21 percent of the department is trained as paramedics now. The department also will consider requiring paramedic certification from new hires, Allmon said.
Kutsko said the 10 firefighters who will take part in next year’s program volunteered for the training. All firefighter/paramedics will receive $3,000 a year in specialty pay starting next year, a $500 a year increase from previous years.
Even with the incentive, however, not every firefighter has the desire to receive the extra training.
“There are some firefighters that are squeamish around blood,” Kutsko said. “Not everybody is cut out to be a paramedic.”
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