By Eric Andrews, Snohomish County Fire District 7 Assistant Chief for Operations.
There was a recent article in the Mill Creek View that questioned the way fire departments deploy resources to 911 calls. Each department may differ slightly, but I would like to share what we do at Snohomish County Fire District 7.
Our top priority is saving lives and property, and ensuring the safety of emergency personnel.
We staff stations, fire engines and ambulances at levels based on scientific data to deliver the best possible outcome in an emergency.
Responding to a medical emergency, motor vehicle collision, or fire takes a significant number of emergency personnel.
For example, say we receive a call about someone who is having a heart attack. When we arrive, that person is unconscious and not breathing. Our firefighter/paramedics will start Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation along with other Advanced Life Support measures such as multiple IV drug therapies, cardiac defibrillation, intubation of the airway, heart pacing, and several other medical procedures before transporting the patient to an area hospital.
Many things are occurring simultaneously during a medical emergency including communication with an emergency room physician, transcribing medical care, and moving the patient who is attached to life-saving equipment.
In essence, we have brought a mobile emergency room to the person in need and the emergency personnel needed to run it.
In the past, it required five people to respond to a heart attack, but many patients did not survive with this response.
A new method of high performance Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation and advanced mobile intensive care now requires seven people, and has improved cardiac survival rates by 30%.
Snohomish County Fire District 7 has a cardiac save rate that is twice the national average because we have this capability.
The minimum staffing level on the first-alarm for a residential fire is 13 people yet we have just one three-person fire engine in the City of Mill Creek.
When you see multiple fire engines on a scene, it’s because they have come from other stations to help.
The National Fire Protection Agency and Washington Survey and Rating Bureau recommend staffing an engine with five people. We have assessed the risk and have chosen to staff engines with three firefighters to save money on personnel costs.
If we could afford to staff our engines with more than three firefighters, property owners would see a savings in insurance premiums.
Any decrease in the staffing levels that we have today will not only put the safety of our citizens and firefighters at risk, but also result in higher insurance premiums for property owners.
Fire engines and ambulances both show up to an emergency because we need to be prepared for multiple hazards and possible injuries.
These fire engines are large for a reason; they need to carry a large amount of equipment for structure fires, but also for hazardous material spills, building collapse, trench and confined space rescues, high angle and water rescues, vehicle extrications, emergency medical equipment, and wildland fires.
Maybe we should change our name from “fire” department to “emergency services” department, because the diversity of emergencies to which we respond is so incredibly varied.
These other emergencies are just as dangerous as fire calls and require dedicated and highly trained responders.
In any case, the demand for emergency services continues to increase and Snohomish County Fire District 7 is ready and prepared to respond.
On behalf of all of us, thank you for the opportunity to serve.