How one FD added EMS during the pandemic
The Steubenville, Ohio Fire Department answered its community’s needs, launching EMS in under a year
Steubenville, Ohio is located 33 miles from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and close to Wheeling, West Virginia, along the Ohio River, a location convenient for brewing beer in the 1800s, and producing and transporting steel in the '60s, '70s and '80s. Today, the biggest employers are the local university, community college and hospital.
Serving a population of approximately 18,000 citizens, the Steubenville Fire Department recently established the first department-operated ambulance service in the community.
I spoke with Assistant Chief Joe Ribar, who explained his personnel rose to the challenge by establishing this new service during a pandemic.
Previously, firefighters and EMS personnel with the fire department always felt like they were there to assist the private-operated EMS service, Ribar noted. But then the private service that provided EMS coverage to the city began having difficulty with staffing and the city began relying on outside agencies to handle EMS calls.
“While those departments helped Steubenville greatly, they had their own communities to cover and, at times, the delay for ambulances was reaching 30-45 minutes,” Ribar said. “The city manager and city council began evaluating the issue. It just made more sense for [the city] to invest within the city fire department rather than looking into private vendors.”
After talking to departments from all over the country who had implemented EMS services, Steubenville’s service was operational on Oct. 18, 2020.
“It took us less than a year to get it up and running. It happened quick,” Chief Carlo Capaldi said. “With the issues with the private ambulance company, we needed something now. We began planning in January and were operational by October.”
The department used federal CARES funding to purchase three ambulances and the EMS equipment, Capaldi added.
The Steubenville Fire Department handled nearly 3,900 calls in 2021. “We have taken a big role in EMS,” Ribar said.
The department operates one or two ambulances daily, depending on staffing levels. The EMS units are equipped to perform ALS care. When two units are on duty, the department typically has an ALS and BLS unit in service. “Citizens know they are going to get a prompt, efficient and professional response,” Ribar noted.
Fire department staffing increased from 34 to 40, with three additional hires to most likely come later this year, Ribar added. The fire department has sent multiple firefighters who were first responders to EMT-basic training. Additionally, four existing EMTs are continuing their education to become paramedics.
“We still have some work to do,” Capaldi said.
Stakeholder and community support
Ribar explained that the department’s mutual aid partners were instrumental in starting and maintaining the EMS service, including Wintersville Fire and Rescue, Mingo Junction Fire and EMS and TEMS Joint Ambulance District.
“The mutual aid departments did everything from offer supplies and equipment to continue running calls when we were only able to put one unit out due to staffing at the onset,” Ribar added. “They made sure our community was getting an ambulance when needed.”
Several supporters, including Steubenville’s City Manager, Jim Mavromatis; City Council Members Willie Paul and Craig Petrella; and Finance Director, Dave Lewis were also a big help during the transition.
Additionally, “the local IAFF has been nothing but supportive of the new service. The local president and vice president really worked hard during negotiations to get a good balance for the EMS and fire staff,” Ribar said, noting the Ohio Association of Professional Fire Firefighters was also supportive.
Capaldi, a 30-year veteran of the department, has served as chief for the past 10.
“A year prior, I thought I would never see our department providing EMS services,” Capaldi said. “But here we are.”
“All 34 members at the time, whether they were first responders or paramedics are the reason it is so successful,” Ribar said.
Under fire in Iraq, then Las Vegas
Oscar Monterossa served in the U.S. Army for four years as a combat medic, but it was the Route 91 Harvest music festival shooting where the paramedic felt most vulnerable