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Week's events honor emergency responders

By Elena Watts
May 23, 2013 at 12:23 a.m.
Updated May 24, 2013 at 12:24 a.m.

Steven Stolle, 23, of Falls City, front, and  Michael Belt, back, pulls out the stretcher in the newest ambulance in the Victoria Fire Department which is part of Station 5 in Victoria. The new stretcher is automated and can support up to 700 pounds, so it is easier for paramedics and firefighters to move patients in and out of the ambulance.

Kassie Haynes, a 31-year-old stay-at-home mom, had a panic attack when 60 percent of her home burned, leaving the rest smoke and heat damaged last February.

"I was shaking, out of control, and I couldn't breathe," Haynes said.

The firefighters surrounded her, asked her questions to keep her calm and offered her medication.

"Firefighters risk their lives to make sure people are OK," she said. "They don't know what they're up against - they do a good job."

National Emergency Medical Services Week , which ends Saturday, provides a time for those who have benefited from such assistance, as well as those lucky enough to avoid catastrophe, to appreciate the lifesaving work of emergency medical responders.

DeTar Healthcare System and Citizens Medical Center hosted lunches this week for emergency personnel in Victoria and surrounding counties.

The Victoria Fire Department's honorees included 117 employees, trained as both emergency medical technicians and firefighters, who serve the county's 889 square miles from five stations throughout the community.

In 1995, Victoria's emergency medical and fire services merged to reap the advantages of cross-training, expanding the Seattle Fire Department's groundbreaking 1969 concept that combined emergency medical and fire services for the first time.

Consequently, fire engines and ambulances can assist with any emergency, maximizing resources and saving time by making their order of arrival irrelevant.

Blazing its own trail last year, the Victoria Fire Department, under the direction of Assistant Fire Chief Robert "Tracy" Fox, began the Critical Care Program, for which Fox received a citizenship award from the Golden Crescent Regional Planning Commission.

The goals are to provide the highest level of pre-hospital care possible and deliver the patient to the emergency room in a timely manner.

The department responded to more than 7,000 rescue, medical and fire calls last year. While a department's involvement typically ends at the hospital door, Fox's program tracks traumatic, cardiovascular and stroke medical emergencies from the 911 call to the final outcome - ideally the patient's discharge and return home.

Capt. Tim Hunter of the Victoria Fire Department collects, analyzes and shares the information with hospital and other critical care coordinators involved.

Six to 10 prior critical incidents are selected each month for a more thorough evaluation. Hospital critical care coordinators, emergency room staff, the helicopter crew and all Victoria Fire Department personnel involved, including the medical director, meet in the Station 1 classroom. The dispatcher's recording is played, the lead medic describes the scene, and the hospital's representative describes the treatment and outcome. The ensuing discussion helps the team determine what is working and what is not.

"Our mission is to protect life and property," said training chief Michael Belt. "It's not just about getting to the hospital for us; we want to know the outcome and constantly improve the service."

The department races against time, Belt said, the biggest enemy in the fight to save lives. Full recovery is less likely as more time passes between the incident and the treatment.

The department used American Heart Association and American Stroke Association recommendations to establish benchmarks for cardiovascular and stroke incidents. Last year, it surpassed all the goals, including response within six minutes and delivery of the patient to the emergency room in no more than 30 minutes from the point of contact.

The six-minute response time in cases of trauma, established by American College of Surgeons recommendations, was also surpassed last year. The other three benchmarks - on-scene time, extrication time and time from the point of contact to the hospital - were almost met.

Belt said trauma cases are different because most of them occur outside the city and involve vehicles travelling at high speeds. Sometimes passengers must be cut from their vehicles before they can be helped, and the distance to the nearest hospital is much farther. Despite this, the extrication benchmark was missed by only 37 seconds, and the other two targets were missed by no longer than six minutes.

Eleven volunteer fire departments in Victoria County, including Nursery, Quail Creek and DaCosta, help with suppressing fires and saving lives, Belt said. They arrive earlier to scenes that might take the department 10 to 20 minutes to reach, and the early information, which is not always obtainable from panicked 911 callers, can trigger different resources and responses.



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