Providing top-notch care to patients with service animals
Baltimore City Fire Department trains to go above and beyond the call of duty for the patients they serve
As one of the busiest fire-based EMS agencies in the country, Baltimore City Fire Department personnel go above and beyond the call of duty, providing top notch pre-hospital emergency medical care not only for the patients they serve, but for their four-legged service animals, as well.
Service animal training
The Baltimore City Fire Department has provided training along with the Maryland Institute of Emergency Medical Services Systems, through recertification training of clinicians and increased awareness of ensuring patients who have certified service animals are treated appropriately.
The city’s fire department identified the need to address these issues in 2012 when an operation memo was created and dedicated the appropriate treatment of service animals, according to Baltimore City Fire Department Deputy Chief of EMS James Matz.
The memo spells out the definition of service animals, how they can be identified and how the department will transport them along with their owners for treatment.
“Policies and procedures within the BCFD are also in place to ensure our members know the expectations during interactions with patients with certified service animals including how to handle the animals and way to transport them safely,” Langford said.
The Americans with Disabilities Act defines a service animal as an animal that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability. Generally, entities must permit service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas where members of the public go. In the United States, there are about 500,000 service animals. Dogs are the most common service animal and have been assisting people since 1927. On average, it takes nearly a year and a half to train a service dog.
Putting training into action
On New Year’s Day, Baltimore City Medic 10 from the Kaminski Station and Engine 50 from the Broening Highway station were dispatched to a truck stop in southeast Baltimore for chest pain, according to Capt. John Damario, a 35-year veteran of the department. The dispatch wasn’t unique, but locating the patient and his four-legged service animal proved to be challenging.
Drivers often sleep in the lot overnight, and when units arrived, there were more than 100 tractor trailers in the lot. We had trouble locating the truck,” Demario said. “We knew that we had someone in this large area.”
Demario told me his units attempted using the sirens and horns on the responding apparatus to attempt to in hopes the 911 dispatcher would hear them in the background of the phone call.
“At one point, our dispatcher advised that they believed the patient’s condition was deteriorating,” Demario said. “Our dispatchers were able to provide the name of the trucking company and that is how we ended up finding the patient.”
Medic 10 arrived first, followed by Engine 50, according to Demario. The patient was moved from the truck and his service animal, Bailey, jumped down. A firefighter from Engine 50 began caring for the animal.
The critically ill patient was moved to the ambulance and the service animal was secured for transport to a local hospital. When crews arrived at the hospital, the patient was moved inside.
“The dog had exited the ambulance, but didn’t see where his own went, so he jumped back up in the ambulance … the last place he knew his owner was,” Demario recounted.
Bailey was able to escort his owner inside the facility.
Demario said that it was great to be able to locate the patient, get him the help he needed and be able to transport the service animal with the patient.
With the acuity of the patient, crew members from Engine 50 stayed with Bailey at the hospital, ensuring that he was well taken care of. The firefighters and EMS personnel took him outside as needed and waited for direction from the facility.
Bailey was eventually turned over to the facility staff so that the units could return to service.
Baltimore City Fire Department Medical Director, Dr. Benjamin Lawner, noted, “this is a great call that showcased the flexibility of our providers and how EMS is always expanding to meet the needs of the community. I think it is a tribute to the staff that tailored a response to the needs of this patient. Kudos to the responders for meeting the entirety of the patient’s needs.”
Lawner added, the clinicians recognized the patient was critically ill and preserving the patient’s life included his clinical condition as well as his social life, Bailey.
“We are extremely proud of our members who serve the citizens of Baltimore each day. We continue to enhance our skills in responding to incident involving members of the public with disabilities and access and functional needs,” Baltimore City Fire Department IAFF Local 734 President Rich Langford said. “Technology has helped us in many ways. Resources provided by the Maryland Department of Disabilities and the Maryland Institute of Emergency Medical Services Systems have been instrumental in preparing our members to serve the community in the best way possible.”
Baltimore City Fire Department ranks in the top busiest fire-based EMS systems in the United States, averaging nearly 350,000 total calls with nearly 200,000 EMS incidents. The city is fourth behind New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.
Baltimore City operates 28 advanced life support and basic life support ambulances from 38 stations strategically located throughout the city with a staff of 1,514. City fire suppression apparatus often supplement EMS units on high acuity incidents or during high call volume periods, according to Matz.
The city’s ambulances transport to the some of the busiest emergency rooms in the state of Maryland, including MedStar Franklin Square, Sinai Hospital of Baltimore, University of Maryland Medical Center and Johns Hopkins Hospital. The city is also home to the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center, the only primary adult resource center in Maryland and the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, the primary referral center for pediatric trauma patients and the Johns Hopkins Burn Center at the Bayview campus.
The fire department is designated in to seven battalions – six fire and one EMS – servicing a population of more than 575,000 residents covering a land mass of 81 square miles.
“Although every effort will be made to transport an animal in a safe manner, for the patient, animal and crew, it may not always be possible,” Langford said. Our members now have the resources to assist in making sure the service animal can be transported and cared for in an appropriate manner. Another aspect of the training includes coordination with the receiving hospital to ensure they are prepared to receive the service.”