Chicago Paramedics Gain "Third Eye" Tools & Technologies:

I t was a warm summer day on the Saturday before Father’s Day in June 2012. Veteran Chicago, IL, Fire Department (CFD) Paramedic Anne Gradolf responded to a call for an ambulance on the city’s southeast side. The boyfriend of a young woman who was...


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“Its small size was perfect for ambulance use,” Anthony said. “We ran with single-gas meters on our engines many years ago, but it was a clunky, big device. This compact gas monitor was perfect.”

While many EMS professionals carry meters in their vehicles or bags, the devices seldom get used because technicians “get caught up in the problems of the moment,” Anthony said, and forget to turn the unit on. In contrast, the CFD’s latest addition to its standard operating procedures (SOPs) requires paramedics to keep the gas monitor for CO on and attached to their radio straps throughout their shift – positioned on their chests – to provide protection from CO in their breathing zone. Paramedics follow start-up protocols for the monitors at the beginning of their day, but don’t even realize it’s there the rest of the time, said Anthony.

Before issuing the monitors, the CFD conducted a 30-day trial with five ambulances to ascertain the best protocols based on actual usage. Training also was conducted to familiarize the EMS teams with the simple two-button operation, bump testing and calibration protocols, in addition to how to interpret readings. The immediately dangerous to life or health (IDLH) threshold for the CFD is 100 ppm for CO, a level that requires responders to don self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) and remove people from the location. At lower readings, responders typically can address the issue by improving ventilation. In both instances, the gas company is called to address gas leaks.

For Gradolf, who has been with CFD for 21 years, the new single-gas meters for detecting CO are a welcome safety tool. “I had to rely on instinct before,” she said. “Now, we have meters that give us real-time alerts so we can catch things that we wouldn’t have always caught, even with our training and medical skills. Having a monitor is like having a third eye.”

Chicago is not alone in its effort to reduce the threat of CO poisoning by equipping EMS teams with single-gas meters. Lieutenant/Paramedic Seth Martin of the Ketchum, ID, Fire Department, said lives have been saved using the ToxiRAE 3 single-gas meter for CO. One month after deploying the meters in 2009, he and his team entered a residence where they found two victims – one unconscious and the other sick and confused.

“Almost instantly, our ToxiRAE 3 meter started alarming,” he said. “This confirmed we had an environment that was immediately dangerous to life and health, and we rapidly removed the two victims and ourselves from the home. The instrument ended up saving their lives, and kept us safe. They were both evacuated by air ambulance to a hyperbaric chamber.” n