PFD now responding to medical emergencies

By Frank Lewis -

“The citizens of the city of Portsmouth spend $4 million a year to have us here,” Portsmouth Fire Chief Bill Raison said. “So the more service we provide for our community, the better.”

Here is a statistic you may not have known – The Portsmouth Fire Department has had 1,115 calls for service in 2016 through July. What makes that number jump off the page is the fact that prior to this year, the department was responding to 800-900 calls per year.

The Portsmouth Fire Department is in the process of getting deeper into the service of responding to medical emergencies. There are four levels of emergency technician training. They are, from lowest to highest – Emergency Medical Responder, Emergency Medical Technician (EMT Basic), Advanced Emergency Medical Technician and Paramedic. The biggest percentage of the PFD personnel are EMT’s, while some are Paramedics.

“We’re starting a class the first of August to move those (EMT) guys to the Advanced EMT level,” Raison said. “That will expand what our people are capable of doing at an emergency medical incident.”

Raison said the PFD is already actively engaged in the practice of responding to medical emergencies.

“Let’s say you have a medical emergency in the city and you dial 911 and the dispatcher downstairs answers the phone and you tell them what the issue is,” Raison said. “They’re going to dispatch the closest engine company to you. Then, at the same time, they’re going to contact one of the private ambulance companies and dispatch a private ambulance company, so if you require transportation to the hospital, the ambulance company can do that. We don’t have ambulances, so we can’t take you to the hospital.”

The advantage to having the fire department respond to a medical emergency is that they can arrive on the scene and initiate care. Then, when the private ambulance company arrives, the care is transferred to them.

“We’re looking to provide more service to the community to provide a stronger EMS system for the city,” Raison said.

He set up a hypothetical scenario, which shows the advantage of having the fire department respond to medical emergencies.

“Before we started doing this, if you had a heart attack in Sciotoville, you’re kind of far removed from the city proper,” Raison said. “Most of the time while you’re waiting on a ambulance to come from downtown to Sciotoville, that can take some time. Now, if you have a heart attack in Sciotoville, we’re going to dispatch Engine 4, so the response time now for that same emergency, instead of being 8-10 minutes, it is now 2-3 minutes. So we’re going to get there and we’re going to initiate treatment, while the ambulance is coming to take you to the hospital. That can make a huge difference.”

Mike Adkins, owner of Portsmouth Ambulance, said he would like to look into placing an ambulance in Sciotoville and had talked with Sixth Ward Councilman Tom Lowe about the possibility.

“It does take us 7-8 minutes to get from our station up into that area and we’re looking down the road when that new highway comes through there,” Adkins said. “That (Sciotoville) is pretty close to the new highway, and I think the closest ambulance, if anything did happen in there, would either have to come out of Wheelersburg or Minford.”

Adkins said his employees appreciate having the Portsmouth Fire Department responding to medical emergencies.

“I’ve found it very beneficial,” Adkins said. “They’re very helpful at the scene especially at motor vehicle accidents on the highway. They can also help out with the traffic. Our guys are pretty pleased they’re doing it.”

Raison said private ambulance companies have no obligation to be in operation meaning, as happened several years ago, a company can simply close down operations in the middle of the night, perhaps leaving the citizens in the lurch as far as having emergency medical assistance. He said the fire department’s presence means there is always medical emergency assistance available.

“Emergency medical care is a major component of the fire service,” Raison said. “It hasn’t been in Portsmouth for decades but that is really out of step with the industry as a whole, so we’re trying to put us back in line with what the industry is doing and ultimately working with our local private companies.”

By Frank Lewis

Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.

Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.