Speak Up 8/12: The Public Side of Public Safety

I have been reading Firehouse ® Magazine for several years. I enjoy the diversity of articles and features the magazine offers. I find that I can always find a new aspect of firefighting to consider after reading and rereading a copy of Firehouse...


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I have been reading Firehouse® Magazine for several years. I enjoy the diversity of articles and features the magazine offers. I find that I can always find a new aspect of firefighting to consider after reading and rereading a copy of Firehouse®.

I had an experience not long ago in which I went on a BLS (basic life support) ambulance call for a patient not far away. Another EMT and I happened to be at the station talking when the tones dropped. We had about a one-minute response time.

After returning from the call, I was speaking with the assistant fire chief. He advised that he had been speaking to the occupants of the home we responded to and that they had expressed concern for getting an ambulance in a timely manner.

It struck me that our outreach is non-existent. Obviously, we can’t go around talking about private information in violation of HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) privacy rules, but we certainly could do better, not only as my department, but as a national and global fire service to demonstrate all that we do for the public good. I feel that most communities are thankful for the fire service, but may not be as aware of our role as they could be with moderate effort on our part.

 

Looking to us as leaders

The fire service, arguably more than any other discipline of emergency management, is looked upon as the leader in a community when a disaster strikes. Regardless of the type of incident or its origin, local fire companies everywhere answer the charge to render aid in situations of all kinds. Although I’m sure many firefighters have been in a situation where a patient, an injured party or disaster victim has become angry and directed frustration at fire personnel, I would also say that the other 99% of the time, we are a welcome sight for a person or family in real distress, but do they realize it?

You read that correctly. Do the people who called you to their house fire realize that you are not only willing to help, but also trained in fire suppression, medical treatment, public safety, evacuation procedures, property salvage and mental health and emotional support? I’m saying no. I say they call because you are the fire department and all they realize is that they have a fire.

Today’s fire service is so much more than just “putting the wet stuff on the red stuff.” We are an evolving, professional, cross-trained group of persons who can do a variety of highly critical and specialized tasks. It’s about time we realize just because we know our capabilities doesn’t mean the general public does as well. This is the case for just how important it is that we tell them.

 

We did a great job, but nobody knows it

My rural volunteer department very recently brought together the fire and EMS divisions to attend landing-zone training by a local air ambulance provider. Less than a week later, I personally called in two helicopters during a very serious car-versus-tree collision with four persons entrapped – the first time our department has used air transport. Six separate agencies responded, including local, county and state police, fire-EMS, a county rescue squad and a local air ambulance service that provided the helicopters. The car struck a very large oak tree head on after having missed a jogger in the road. We experienced an estimated 35-minute extrication to remove all four occupants. Extrication required the removal of multiple doors on the vehicle, as well as a complete pillar-up roof removal, and the removal of the backs of both front seats for rear patient access. We remained on scene for about three hours before the vehicle was released to the tow service operator.

We brought in ALS (advanced life support) ground ambulances, established landing zones and landed the two air units simultaneously, coordinated with local, county and state police and the county rescue squad to save these people – but nobody else knows it. No one knows what a great job every single person did at that scene to help save lives.

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