Column: Medical First Responders- The Backbone of Portage County EMS
By Kathy Behnke & Jason Olds, Amherst Fire District
For me it all started out as I watched the glaring lights of the emergency vehicles at a crash scene up ahead. As I concentrated on the road, I couldn’t help but wonder what type of person it takes to stop everything they are doing and help a person they might not know. I decided to find out more and next thing I knew, I was a medical first responder helping my neighbors.
A medical first responder, often referred to as just “first responder”, is one of the first public safety professionals to arrive at the scene following an emergency. With calls for help ranging from heart attacks to car crashes and everything in between, lives are sometimes hanging in the balance and a first responder must act quickly in those cases to save them. In other cases first responders provide important comfort and reassurance to patients that do not have life-threatening conditions but may just be scared, worried or unsure of what is happening to them. First responders provide important care for the sick and wounded while getting them stabilized before paramedics arrive to provide advanced life support and transport to the hospital. Portage County is fortunate to have all of its 823 square miles covered by eleven municipal and two industry-based first responder groups working side by side with law enforcement and firefighters to provide the best all-around care in emergency situations.
In Portage County, the first responder role can be filled by emergency medical responders (EMRs) or emergency medical technicians (EMTs). Each level of responder begins by completing a 60-hour or 180-hour training course through an approved training center. The initial education for EMRs covers the basics of emergency medical care and several life-saving skills including automatic external defibrillation (AED), bleeding control, airway management and epinephrine administration. EMTs are trained on additional skills and medications and study human anatomy, body systems, illnesses and injuries a little more in-depth. EMTs are also required to complete clinical training alongside ambulance crews and in emergency department settings.
After I completed my training I joined my local EMS group and began my orientation to their equipment, supplies, policies, procedures and response area. When my orientation was complete I was given a radio and pager and authorized to sign up for shifts. Each EMS group has different methods of going about this. Some groups have their responders sign up at monthly meetings. Others have an online calendar so they can sign up from the comfort of their own home. Some services have one responder on-call at a time while others may have two or three. Each responder carries a set of medical bags. These bags contain everything from oxygen cylinders and cervical collars to splints, bandages and medications. They also contain specialized supplies and equipment for pediatric patients. Once a responder is signed up for a shift, they are responsible to respond to any calls their service receives during the shift.
As I start my day’s shift, I prepare the medical packs and equipment that I may need for a call. I check my packs’ inventories, the batteries in my AED and the level in my oxygen tank. I am also wearing suitable clothing that represents my service and the professional that I am. Once these things are done I am ready to respond the moment my pager and radio sound off. As I go about my daily routine I seem to have one ear always tuned to my pager. When being on call, a responder is still able to visit the store, work in the yard and do just about anything as long as he or she remains available for immediate response to calls in the coverage area of their department.
As the pager sounds, I listen intently as the adrenaline rushes over me. I write down the address of the call, and make note of the patient’s chief complaint or what type of emergency this might be. Is it a medical call or a traumatic event? Before I jump in my vehicle I take a look at my map book to make sure I know the fastest route to the scene location. I then use my radio to call dispatch to tell them that I’m en route. This lets them know I’m responding and how many other responders will be going to the scene. En route I mentally visualize what condition the patient may be in, how I’m going to treat them and what type of resources I might need. As I arrive on scene, I let dispatch know that I have arrived and I take note of my surroundings. Different types of calls have to be dealt with in different ways. Will a motor vehicle accident put me in harm’s way? Or will the medical call result in me being vigilant in the caller’s house? Both types of these calls have me putting safety first and foremost.
As I begin my assessment and care on scene I will make sure that I am wearing my PPE (personal protective equipment) such as medical exam gloves, masks and safety glasses. As I approach you I will introduce myself and ask what happened. As the patient, things may become a little over-whelming for you at this point but rest assured I am following my training and protocols to assess and care for you. As other first responders arrive they will also be looking at various clues to what might be going on. One of us will be asking you your medical history, if you have any allergies and the medications you have or have not taken. Another responder will be letting you know that they will be taking your blood pressure, heart rate, respirations, blood sugar and tend to any visible injuries you might have. We might ask to provide oxygen to you by a mask or nasal cannula. Once the responders have your information and taken care of you immediate needs we will then contact the responding ambulance to provide them an update of your condition and any treatments we have done.
Once the ambulance crew arrives we will give them a brief update and turn your care over to them. They might ask you the some of the same questions as we did. This helps to identify any changes in your condition. We will stay on scene to help the paramedics with your care, moving you to their ambulance and their equipment. Once loaded up into the ambulance we might be asked to help in the back or to drive so that both paramedics can tend to you.
Once we are released by the paramedics, we will radio dispatch and let them that we are clear of the scene and available for another call. We will then restock our medical bags and head back home to our families, maybe eat the dinner we missed or go back to sleep because we need to get up and go to our full-time job in a few hours.
Being a first responder not only gives you the chance to really do something for your community, it gives you the chance to make a huge difference by helping someone in need. Remember these people in need could be you, your friends, relatives or a neighbor! Give back to your community and become a first responder today!