When people think of healthcare, they usually conjure up mental images of doctors and nurses wearing white lab coats and scrubs however increasingly, people are including firefighters in their mental list of people who take care of the sick. In many areas of the country, fire departments and firefighters provide Emergency Medical Services, bringing paramedics and EMTs to people in need of medical care wherever they may be.Beginning in August, 2014 this method of providing emergency medical care to patients in Walworth County, WI will be put to use but not in the way you might think.
“When people think of firefighters providing medical care, they usually assume ambulances come from the fire department when they call 911. Fire departments have been assuming healthcare duties once considered to be within the realm of doctors for many years and it’s become a commonplace and natural thing for many communities. We saw a need and realized that the combination of fire and emergency medical services would be a good fit for our community.” Said Tom Stricker, President and CEO of St. Phillip Neri Hospital and Health System.
That’s why in August of 2014, St. Phillip Neri Hospital and Health System will be assuming ownership and control of the Walworth County Fire District #2 that provides fire and emergency services to Delavan and the surrounding townships.
For the last 50 years, WCFD2 provided fire response to the community on a volunteer basis. The hospital has been providing ambulance services since 1974. In 2012, the Board of Commissioners of the fire district submitted a plan to the local governmental bodies in their area with their plan to take over providing ambulance service to the community and that gave Mr. Stricker an idea.
“If the combination of Fire and EMS is so beneficial, why couldn’t the hospital take over firefighting duties?” He asked himself. He found no reason that it wouldn’t be a good fit for the community, and started preparing the hospital to absorb the fire district from the medical side.
“We’re the largest employer in this part of the county and in fact, many of our employees are also volunteer firefighters. We allow them to leave the hospital while they are working to attend fire calls. We asked ourselves why we couldn’t simply move the fire station here.”
St. Phillip Neri Hospital EMS staffs three ambulances at the Critical Care Paramedic level twenty-four hours per day with an additional truck on-duty when needed for long distance patient transports. The paramedics provide services within the hospital’s emergency room and intensive care areas when not in their ambulances. They provide the area’s primary 911 service as well as transporting patients to hospitals in Janesville, Milwaukee, and Madison. Mr. Stricker views them as an essential part of the hospital’s service to the community and essential to their mission and operations. He says that he saw the fire district assuming ambulance duties as not being in the community’s best interest and worked out a plan.
“The fire district’s proposal included assertions that firefighters providing EMS could provide immediate treatment to victims of house fires and other emergencies. Our paramedics already attend nearly every accident scene in the county, but if the firefighters believed that faster care to fire victims is better, we can do that too.”
The hospital has plans to build a $37 million new facility on the city’s West side, with groundbreaking scheduled in 2015. Mr. Stricker said that adding a state-of-the-art fire station to the building plans only added negligible costs to the build. He also found that training existing staff paramedics, most of whom are already certified and experienced firefighters, to meet state firefighting qualifications was well within the hospital’s budget. He determined that by using existing management within the hospital could also reduce the costs of managing the fire department by 62% over the district’s existing administrative overhead.
“The fire district operated using tax dollars and we can save the city 56% off of their expenses for fire protection by assuming firefighting functions. Since the county owns the existing equipment operated by the fire district, the fire trucks will be transferred to the hospital. We will staff the trucks 24/7 by combining two paramedics who will rotate shifts in order to staff the engine and by qualifying our maintenance and technical personnel as firefighters as well. Our current hospital staff will be able to staff the first and second apparatus out of the station during any shift.” Mr. Stricker said. “Since EMS calls make up 80 to 90 percent of a typical fire department’s workload, we believe that we already have the experience needed to mitigate the lion’s share of all calls for service. We will also work with the existing volunteers and welcome them to stay with the department as employees of the hospital. The volunteers will become paid-on-call firefighters as by reducing the overall costs of running the department we are saving money even if we compensate them for their time. We will also be purchasing a new fire engine with the savings we were able to obtain from purchasing a $3.5 million MRI machine. The company gave us a deal”
When asked if He will become the fire chief, Mr. Stricker laughed and said “Oh no, not me… But Dr. Thomas, who serves as our EMS and Emergency Department Medical Director grew up in a firefighting family and served as a volunteer firefighter before attending medical school. He has expressed great interest in wearing the white shirt as well as the white coat.”