Fayetteville’s firefighters already make medical calls

Fayetteville firefighter/paramedic Josh Collins is pictured with the emergency medical equipment carried on the city’s fire trucks. Photo/Ben Nelms.

The Fayetteville City Council by a 3-2 vote on April 23 turned down a proposal to consolidate the city’s fire services with Fayette County. Since most calls involve issues other than fire response, Fayetteville Fire Chief Alan Jones was asked about the department’s past response to issues such as medical calls and whether the council’s decision last week will cause any changes to that response. Jones said the city’s response today is the same as it has been since the late 1980s.

Asked what happens when a medical call comes in at the 911 center, Jones said the only calls for which a fire truck does not respond are those calls of a minor medical nature and then only if the county ambulance stationed in the city is available.

[For a related story, click here. For the mayor's response to the vote, click here.]

“If the ambulance staff is there they run the minor medical calls. Otherwise, a fire truck will run all medical calls. And with anything other than minor medical calls (the fire truck and ambulance) both go,” Jones said. “This is what we’ve been doing since the days of (former fire chief) Henry Argo in the late 1980s.”

The reference to ambulances was to the one unit stationed in Fayetteville which is owned and operated by the county and for which city residents already pay a tax for EMS and 911 services totaling .456 mills, which covers EMS and ambulance services, said Jones.

In terms of what county firefighters can do that city firefighters cannot do, city fire department Medical Director Dr. Christopher Edens, who is board-certified in emergency medicine, commented on that question at the April 23 City Council meeting. Edens was emphatic that city firefighters were no less trained than county firefighters, having a minimum certification as an EMT-I (Emergency Medical Technician – Intermediate).

Beyond that, Jones noted that of the 24 FTEs (full-time equivalents) working on city fire trucks, four of those are paramedics and five others are within 1-2 months of acquiring their paramedic certifications. Paramedic is a higher level of medical certification than EMT.

Edens said the real difference is that “we don’t have an ambulance for (firefighters) to be on even though they are already trained.”

Jones said city firefighters can start IVs, defibrillate, administer oxygen, establish and maintain an airway using multiple methods and administer medications carried on fire trucks that include oral glucose and epinephrine.

It is on ambulances that other drugs can be found. Jones said that while the city’s paramedics can administer other drugs, those drugs are carried on ambulances rather than on the city’s fire trucks.

“We’re first responders, not an ambulance service. We supplement the EMS ambulance service the county provides and that Fayetteville citizens pay for,” Jones said.

Citing an example of responses to calls, Jones said a fire truck responds to all wrecks, medical calls other than minor instances, gas leaks and a host of other service call categories. Jones said fire trucks do not respond to medical transfers since those transports must be done by ambulance.

The fire department schedules eight firefighters per 24-hour shift for the city’s two stations, with a minimum of six and an average of seven, Jones said. The main station is adjacent to City Hall, and the second station is in the interior of the Pavilion shopping center, north of downtown.