This newspaper article features one of our friends, Brian Gibson. Bill suggested I put this article on my blog to honor Brian and to appreciate what he does. Brian lost his wife, Jill, our friend, to a brain aneurysm last February. There’s not a day that doesn’t go by that I think of Jill and miss her. I can’t imagine how Brian and their son, Alex (Zach’s friend) feels each day. God can work through anything, and I pray He worked through this article to encourage Brian in his work.
By Steve Gravelle
Liz Martin photos/The Gazette
Cedar Rapids Fire Capt. Brian Gibson (left) and emergency medical technician Steve Cross put a patient into an ambulance while responding to a medical call last month in southwest Cedar Rapids. Firefighters across the country are finding medical calls increasing while fire calls are dropping.
Engine 8 is on its way back to the house — as usual, not from a fire.
“Sudden onset, fever, nausea, pain?” said firefighter Scott Donohue, ticking off the symptoms described by his most recent patient. “I’m no doctor, but I’m going to say the flu.” Minutes earlier, the crew of Engine 8 — Donohue, firefighter Steve Cross and Capt. Brian Gibson — were dispatched from Station 8, 100 Wiley Blvd. SW, to an apartment off 12th Avenue SW, where a 60-year-old woman, her voice halting as she gasped in pain, described what Donohue figured to be H1N1 symptoms.
An ambulance was right behind Engine 8, pulling behind the truck while still several blocks from the apartment complex. In a nearly seamless handoff of responsibility, Cross helped the two-woman Area Ambulance crew load the stricken woman aboard for the ride to St. Luke’s Hospital.
The routine medical episode on a quiet weeknight is how most firefighters spend most of their duty and how most cities handle the most common type of call for assistance.
Medical emergencies made up nearly 60 percent of Cedar Rapids Fire Department calls in the fiscal year ending June 30. In Iowa City, it was 55 percent.
The steady growth in medical calls over the past decade is part of a national trend as fire prevention becomes more effective — meaning fewer fires — and a large segment of the population ages and goes without other health care — meaning more medical problems.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, fire calls nationwide in 2008 were 1.5 million, half the number logged in 1980, while medical calls increased by 5 million over the same period, to 15.8 million.
“Not only are the (emergency medical service) calls increasing in frequency, but the fire calls are decreasing,” said John Madland, assistant fire chief in Marion, where medical responses were more than 80 percent of the department’s 2,479 calls last year.
“One of the things that really drives our run numbers here is the elderly housing complexes and the nursing homes,” he said. “They have generated not a disproportionate number of calls, but certainly their fair share.” Underlying causes aren’t tracked, but lack of regular medical care has been noted as a contributing factor in large East Coast cities.
“I don’t know that I can blame the economy yet, but I’m hearing some of that in conversations,” said Hiawatha Fire Chief Mike Nesslage.
To meet this shift in duties, most fire departments across the nation, locals included, adopted a “tiered response” strategy. The philosophy allows police, fire and ambulance services to match their responses to each situation, said Cedar Rapids’ Administrative District Chief Curtis Hopper, head of the department’s emergency services.
At any time, seven of the department’s nine trucks have a firefighter certified as a paramedic, the highest of four stages of emergency medical technician training. At least one member of each two-person ambulance crew is also paramediccertified.
“It’s more of a team approach,” Hopper said.
“The setup we’ve got here with PD, then us, then ambulance, it works pretty well,” said Gibson, as the Engine 8 crew awaited another call. “I can’t imagine being on an ambulance, arriving on scene and trying to do CPR with only two people. The majority of the calls you’re going to impact with two people, but there’s going to be a few when you’re just setting yourself up to fail.” The fire department responds “first to render care to the patient, and we respond to take over that initial care and transport the patient to the appropriate hospital,” said Keith Rippy, executive director of the Area Ambulance Service.
Tiered response in Iowa City and Coralville is provided with the Johnson County Ambulance Service. In Linn County, Area Ambulance serves Cedar Rapids, Marion and the outlying rural area. Since June 2005, Hiawatha has been the only area city where the fire department also operates the ambulance service.
“Area provides a good service, but we can provide a better service out of Hiawatha, and we can generate revenue out of that,” Nesslage said.
Area Ambulance aims to be on scene within nine minutes, said Rippy, putting them on scene within minutes of Cedar Rapids’ goal of a five-minute response. Response times this year ranged from 4 minutes 35 seconds in October to 5:14 in April.
Bob Ugarph, Area Ambulance operations manager, said the Cedar Rapids team of police, fire and ambulance has been successful in resuscitating cardiac-arrest patients 22 percent of the time over the past three years, compared with a national average of 5 percent.
“The biggest thing we’ve seen over the years is, people don’t understand why is there a policeman, why is there a firetruck and an ambulance” at some calls, Ugarph said.
“But we’ve never had the complaint from the person in distress that there’s a policeman, a firetruck and an ambulance there,” added Rippy.
Emergency medical technician Steve Cross (right) and Cedar Rapids Fire Capt. Brian Gibson stand outside an apartment last month while firefighter EMTs and a paramedic work with a patient on a medical call in southwest Cedar Rapids.
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