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Colo. FD moves toward in-house ALS unit

Boulder Fire-Rescue Chief Mike Calderazzo said the goal is to bring response times down from a high of 11 minutes to about six minutes


Boulder Fire intends to have its own in-house advanced life support emergency medical services unit in 2023.

Photo/Boulder Fire-Rescue

Deborah Swearingen
Daily Camera

BOULDER, Colo. — Boulder Fire-Rescue is making progress on its goal to upgrade the level of care its emergency respondents can provide in the field.

When 2023 rolls around in just under six months, Boulder Fire intends to have its own in-house advanced life support emergency medical services unit.

In order to kick off this work, the city approved $241,300 in its 2022 budget, which provided the money necessary to hire Jenna Steege to serve in the new role of EMS program administrator. She’s been on the job for a few months.

Steege is tasked with maintaining Boulder Fire’s current medical service level as well as handling the transition as Boulder prepares for its first advanced life support unit.

The role, which Steege describes as a bit of a jack-of-all-trades, is important, given that the department’s call load is dominated by calls for medical service.

In 2021, for example, Boulder Fire-Rescue responded to 10,016 medical calls. Fire-related calls were next in line, but well behind, with 2,602 calls in 2021.

“To have somebody who is focusing solely on EMS ... is important because it’s such a big part of what we do,” Steege said.

Fire Chief Mike Calderazzo played a role in developing the 2020 master plan that set forth the goal related to the level and quality of care that can be administered by his team.

He views the decision to upgrade the level of care Boulder first responders can provide as a multifaceted one. It will improve response times and create a team who can respond to more calls and provide better service to those in need.

“Being able to do the all hazards approach simplifies a lot of things for me, and it allows us as an organization to achieve better (advanced life support) response times and better all hazard response times,” Calderazzo said. “That’s the logic behind the whole thing.”

The goal is to bring response times, which currently range from nine to 11 minutes, down to approximately six minutes, a metric set in the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan that’s considered the best practice nationally.

It’s not an easy goal to meet, but it’s worth striving for, the chief noted.

“You set the target high, and you shoot for it,” he said.

As it works toward improving its level of care, Boulder Fire has sent three of its own to paramedic school. The firefighters are being paid and will retain their jobs but get six months off duty to concentrate on school, Steege noted.

“We want to invest in our own ... (people) that have already been serving our community,” she said. “That’s a big deal to me.”

This is particularly important since there is a nationwide paramedic staffing shortage.

“Every agency is fighting for any paramedic that there is,” Steege said.

There will be additional infrastructure needed for the transition to advanced life support. It’s something Mayor Aaron Brockett asked about when the City Council received an update on the Boulder Fire-Rescue master plan earlier this month.

The equipment and additional medications needed to provide that higher level of care can be costly. For example, a Lifepak, which is a compact device designed to treat patients in cardiac arrest, can cost up to $36,000 for one.

Ultimately, Calderazzo and Steege envision a future in which Boulder has its own fleet of ambulances and can transport its patients to the hospital. Currently, the city contracts with American Medical Rescue for advanced life support ambulance service.

But for now, Boulder Fire-Rescue is simply forging ahead: educating and training its personnel, staffing an engine with a team of three that can provide advanced care and determining what the advanced life support program should look like moving forward while collecting data along the way.

Once that initial building phase has concluded, it will offer a blueprint for continued expansion.

“We just need to get started,” Steege said.


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