Detroit fire department to train for medical response

The new training program is aimed at decreasing response times by January 1st


By Gina Damron
Detroit Free Press

DETROIT — Detroit's firefighters will be trained as medical first responders — a move aimed at decreasing response times and helping the city's EMS unit, officials said.

The city's average response time for EMS is now about 12 minutes and 40 seconds, according to city officials.

"Our EMS unit needs our assistance, but more than that, the people of the city of Detroit need our assistance," Executive Fire Commissioner Edsel Jenkins said during a graduation ceremony for more than 60 new firefighters last week. "There should be no citizen in this city that should have to wait more than six minutes for an ambulance or for some emergency medical care to reach them to save their lives, to save the life of a loved one."

In an interview with the Free Press, Jenkins said the goal is to decrease EMS response time to eight minutes by Jan. 1.

Soon, firefighters will be able to respond to high-priority medical runs and begin initiating care, such as first aid, CPR or using a defibrillator, he said. Jenkins said ambulances will still transport people to hospitals.

Training started Monday and, Jenkins said, the goal is to have all of the firefighters trained and certified as medical first responders within six or seven months. He said the goal is to eventually have firefighters become emergency medical technicians, who can provide even further medical care. And, if firefighters choose, they can advance their training and become paramedics, Jenkins said.

As well, 200 Detroit firefighters and 20 Highland Park firefighters will receive basic EMT training under a federal grant, officials said. Highland Park Fire Chief Derek Hillman said EMTs with basic training can provide first aid, including stabilizing a person until advanced life support arrives, checking a person's blood pressure, providing oxygen and helping to stop bleeding.

Hillman said the move will help provide better service to citizens and "come up to where a lot of fire departments are already at."

Kenneth Willette, division manager of the public fire protection division for the National Fire Protection Association, said fire department personnel providing medical first response has been a national trend for about 15 years.

In New York, firefighters serving on engine companies are certified first responders and, in Denver, the the city's firefighters have basic EMT training, according to spokespeople from those fire departments. Locally, fire departments are also providing medical first response. For example, the majority of firefighters in Sterling Heights and Royal Oak are paramedics, according to those cities.

In Detroit, the training is historic, Jenkins said.

"Now, we're going to be doing medical runs also," he said during the graduation ceremony. "So our whole system, our whole paradigm, the way we do things in the fire department is changing."

EMS response time has been an issue in the city for decades.

This latest move comes after a situation last week when a Detroit News reporter had a medical emergency at city hall and it took at least 20 minutes for an ambulance to arrive. Detroit Free Press reporter Matt Helms said he called 911 three times.

John Roach, spokesman for Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, said the initial 911 call came in at 10:10 a.m. The city had 17 EMS rigs and two other first responder units in service, but all were on other runs, he said. Roach said that at 10:12 a.m. a private EMS company was dispatched and was en route from the city's east side by 10:14 a.m. He said the ambulance was on scene at 10:28 a.m.

In addition to the medical first responder training, the city plans to boost the number of emergency vehicles on the road. Jenkins said the department received five new rigs recently and 10 more are coming in November.

Jenkins said the goal by January is to have 25 ambulances in service, up from an average of 20. He said that by the middle of 2015, the department is also looking to have 49 fire apparatus on the road, up from an average of 43 or 44, as well as eight rapid response units.

Detroit Fire Fighters Association President Jeffrey Pegg said the union submitted a plan, drafted by the International Association of Fire Fighters, to the city. He said the plan outlines firefighters becoming medical first responders, working to be EMTs and then, eventually, providing advanced life support.

Pegg said the idea is for firefighters, EMS and the fire administration to collectively come up with a plan and send it to the mayor's office. That hasn't happened yet, he said. Jenkins said the sides have collaborated on a plan, which is in the final stages.

Pegg said a concern is making sure firefighters are dispatched to high-priority runs with an EMS unit simultaneously, so firefighters aren't waiting at a scene for an ambulance.

Jenkins said that on high-priority medical runs, ambulances will be dispatched along with firefighters. If the fire truck gets there first and the ambulance is not needed, it can be redeployed, he said.

"Our dispatch will be in accordance with the State of Michigan guidelines and ... the safety of the citizens of Detroit and visitors within the jurisdiction of Detroit is our priority," Jenkins said.

Free Press Staff Photographer Brian Kaufman contributed to this report.

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©2014 the Detroit Free Press

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