Fire dept. credits ALS training for high save rates
Crews were able to successfully resuscitate 83 percent of the time, compared to an 11 percent national average
By Austin Ramsey
OWENSBORO, Ky. — Officials with the Owensboro Fire Department say advanced life support training curricula they received in September may be contributing to unusually high save rates for medical calls in the city.
For the month of October, crews staffed with trainees were able to successfully resuscitate 83 percent of the time, compared to an 11 percent national average.
That's remarkable, says Fire Chief Steve Mitchell, but it gets better. The Station 3 third-shift engine crew on the city's northwest side is often regarded as one of the busiest in the city, and it saved 100 percent of cardiac and respiratory arrest victims during that month.
"Our interventions have gone to the next level," Mitchell said. "It's better than we ever could have expected."
The department partnered with the Air Evac Lifeteam out of Evansville and Yellow Ambulance, the region's contracted paramedic service provider, to provide Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS) training in late September for a team of about 10 local firefighters.
Almost 20 years ago, the city made it mandatory that all new firefighters become emergency medical technicians, or EMTs, certified to provide basic life support procedures such as CPR. A few years after that, a study found the department could reach calls, on average, a minute and 30 seconds faster than any ambulance service provider could, so fire crews were dispatched to all medical calls in the city in addition to their regular fire and rescue duties.
Now, at least 87 percent of all calls an Owensboro station receives are medically related, said Station 3 Lt. Trey Davidson.
"That extra minute and a half makes a difference," he said. "It really puts it into perspective for you when it's a matter of life or death."
Davidson was part of the team that received the advanced pediatric training and his third-shift crew, including firefighters Luke Cecil, Justin Floridia and Easton Weathers, saved all five of five cardiac and respiratory arrest victims last month. The training was tailored to children, but the hands-on experience and diagnostic thinking skills firefighters were exposed to was invaluable, he said.
EMTs differ from paramedics largely because of the advanced medications and diagnostic algorithms with which the latter is trained. Too often, he said, that can mean a firefighter -- who more than often gets to the scene first -- can only provide CPR or oxygen until a paramedic arrives.
"But the more exposure we have to what a paramedic is going to do can let us start thinking ahead," he said. "The PALS training got us thinking deeper. OK, so a guy is having chest pains. Let's start thinking diagnostically as early as possible."
The 100 percent save rate isn't going to last forever, and the third-shift guys at Station 3 are well aware of that. Sadly, resuscitations can sometimes seem more like an exception, they say, and it can be hard to wrap the mind around so many lost lives. Cecil said the men he works with are some of his closest friends. They are like brothers, he said, who react without a moment's hesitation to save others or each other before themselves.
Staying emotionally unattached can be harder than any amount of physical training he undergoes, he added.
"We're with people on the worst days of their lives almost every day," he said. "You have to keep your head out of it, because, yeah, it's hard. Of course it's hard."
Crews do what they can to cut through emotionally difficult times with humor -- sort of turning off the mind, Weathers said. But more training could mean fewer of those times and more saved lives in the community he lives in and loves.
"We're proud to do it," he said. "Teamwork is everything, and we're teaming up to save lives."