Councilman questions firefighter’s medical response

By: Melody Stone
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Three firefighters and two paramedics rushed to David Carter’s side after he passed out and fell down at a recent Auburn Chamber of Commerce mixer. City officials question whether this kind of response is excessive in some cases or entirely necessary. Carter didn’t have a stroke or a heart attack. He had an injured knee, which was worsened after walking for 35 minutes looking for the mixer’s location. He was standing on his wounded knee when he became light-headed and passed out the evening of March 18. Carter said the firefighters arrived first and immediately sprang into action. They kept him still, asked him questions and took his blood pressure. Carter said he protested, and told the firefighter he was fine and it was his leg that was hurt. About two minutes later an ambulance arrived and the paramedics also asked questions and took Carter’s blood pressure. “In my situation it was a little bit of an overkill,” Carter said. “But say in a different situation you would’ve needed all those people.” Auburn Vice Mayor Dr. Bill Kirby is interested in looking at situations like Carter’s to see if there’s a way to distinguish what calls need three firefighters and what calls just need an ambulance. “I don’t see a reason to send an engine to a medical call,” Kirby said. “I want to know more about these medical calls.” Fire Chief Mark D’Ambrogi said the fire department went out to 1,377 medical responses last year. D’Ambrogi said about 6 percent of the calls could have been handled without a three-person engine company. “You never, know when you get a call, what you’re going to get when you get there,” D’Ambrogi said. “Having a fire department respond to medical responses in addition to the ambulance provides a higher level of service at a more efficient cost.” Firefighters often arrive first on a scene. If the patient doesn’t need an ambulance the firefighters will call off the ambulance saving the patient $600 to $1,000, D’Ambrogi said. As for the cost to the fire department, D’Ambrogi said the firefighters have the resources already so the costs are minimal. D’Ambrogi said the engine and company must go out on every call because he only has a finite number of staff. He said having a separate vehicle for medical aid and the engine would be inefficient. “If you go to a medical aid and on the way back you’re dispatched … the last thing you want to do is drive all the way back to the station and jump into another vehicle,” D’Ambrogi said. “The engine is our toolbox. We need to be equipped for all situations. I only have one engine in the city. We have to take our toolbox wherever we go for whatever we do.” D’Ambrogi said ideally the department would have a rescue unit in addition to the fire engine, but he doesn’t have enough staff. “Right now because we are so limited I have to do everything with that piece of equipment and the people who are on it,” D’Ambrogi said. Kirby said, as a doctor when he calls for an ambulance to take a patient to the hospital all he needs is an ambulance, not an entire fire crew. Kirby said he greatly respects the fire department but still wants investigate further cost-saving measures. “I want to learn a little more about it,” Kirby said. We have to start looking at any cost savings we can get.”