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Firefighters may help render aid

August 30, 2003|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

The Hagerstown Fire Department might soon be automatically dispatched with Community Rescue Service on ambulance calls in an effort to render aid to patients more quickly, officials said Friday.

Washington County Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said Friday that news of the possible agreement came at a recent meeting of the Emergency Services Council, which he chairs. He said companies within the Hagerstown Fire Department might help CRS on code blue calls if they are in the area of the call.

Code blue calls are those in which an immediate life-threatening situation, such as a cardiac arrest exists.

Snook said many firefighters are also trained emergency medical technicians.

"With firefighters being able to do that, that's not only going to be able to reduce response time, but ... to save a life," Washington County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association President Jason Baer said this week.

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Baer said CRS and the Hagerstown Fire Department's union have to work out an agreement before the services can begin.

"The city of Hagerstown has in the past never done anything with EMS work," Baer said. "I think they realize the fact that they need to be able to respond."

Baer said some Hagerstown Fire Department trucks are already equipped with defibrillators, which are used to aid heart attack victims.

"It sounds very hopeful. It sounds very encouraging," Baer said.

Hagerstown Acting Fire Chief Rick Kipe said on Friday he did not have any information on the matter.

Washington County Emergency Services Director Joe Kroboth said many other fire departments in the county are dispatched to code blue calls with ambulance companies, but that hasn't been the case with the Hagerstown Fire Department.

"The Hagerstown Fire Department hasn't followed in that same practice," Kroboth said. "This is a large step with the fire department. It's going to be such a great thing for Hagerstown residents."

CRS Chief Chris Amos said the Hagerstown Fire Department responds to ambulance calls sometimes, depending on the services needed. For example, he said if CRS needs help moving a patient, the fire department will assist.

But city firefighters are not automatically dispatched with CRS, he said.

He said ultimately the decision to dispatch city firefighters with CRS on a permanent basis would be up to the acting fire chief, but concerns from staff might also play a part in the decision.

"Nobody knows that they've been understaffed for years," Amos said.

He said a dispatched city firetruck usually carries one firefighter, who is met at the scene by other fire officials and volunteers.

Amos said CRS is also understaffed and would support the extra assistance from the Hagerstown Fire Department.

"We'll never resist a better service delivery," Amos said. "We'd be foolish."

CRS, the county's most active ambulance service, handles about 7,000 calls a year.

In July 2002, Kroboth reported to the Washington County Commissioners that CRS was below national standards in response time and number of calls missed. In February, March and April of 2002, CRS missed 61 calls, was late 17 times and on 18 occasions sent undercertified staff members to calls that required the services of crews with advanced certifications, he reported.

Being late to a call means the response time it takes to reach a person in need of medical assistance was more than five minutes and less than 10 minutes after the time of dispatch.

Kroboth also reported that CRS, at the time, was understaffed by three to four people during the 24-hour workday.

He also reported that the level of CRS' medical services were above average.

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