South Burlington, Vermont: Fire Fighters to Become Certified Paramedics
Seven South Burlington fire fighters have nearly completed a year-long paramedic training. Fire fighters Will Moran, Nick Perkov, Brad Dattilio, John Christman, John Goodrich, Will Boyea, and Justin Bliss are scheduled to graduate in early December from a program that Fire Chief Douglas Brent described as “never available in Chittenden County before.”
Previously, fire fighters would travel as far as Conway, NH; Albany, NY; and South Portland, ME for training. “We risk losing people to out-of-state when we send them away for training like that,” Brent said. So, instead, the seasoned fire chief took action and wrote the $635,000 FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) grant for the program, which he received in 2009, “the largest fire grant in Vermont that year,” he said. The grant covers wages, tuition and equipment, and because Chief Brent organizes the administration of the grant, it comes at no cost to the City of South Burlington.
All seven of the EMTs participating in the training program are level 2 EMTs who have served South Burlington for several years. Fire Fighters from Essex and Colchester are also participating in the program. “Making it a regional grant put us higher on the priority list,” Brent said.
Fire fighters are training to attain the EMT level 3-paramedic certification. To achieve paramedic certification, candidates must pass a three-part test: a practical, a written and an oral. “I don’t want to sound like a proud father,” Brent said. “But I was told that the current class average is 89 percent,” he beamed, “the South Burlington average is 99 percent.”
“We’re healthily competitive,” South Burlington fire fighter Nick Perkov admitted with a smile. “The seven of us work really hard at training and studying together.”
The seven students have trained with medical staff at UVM, including Dr. Wibberling whom Perkov described as “extraordinary to work with; he has a tremendous amount of knowledge.”
According to Perkov, the service improvement to South Burlington includes the fact that “a paramedic is able to administer more procedures and medications, and has more advanced knowledge of what a patient may have.” For example, unlike EMT level 2’s who can only administer 8 standard medications, paramedics can assess symptoms and appropriately administer a total of 28 cardiac, respiratory, and pain medications.
Additionally, paramedics are able to administer initial care that otherwise might have to wait until a patient’s arrival at the hospital. “We’re trying to bring definitive treatment to the patient,” Perkov said. He pointed out an expression in the medical field “Time is Tissue” saying that a paramedic can get to work on many issues right away, avoiding many serious conditions. “Once there’s tissue death, it doesn’t come back,” he said.
The mean time in South Burlington for response to a 911 call is 4 minutes. “Providing definitive care in less than 4 minutes—that’s huge,” Perkov said.
For example, as Perkov points out, “A seizure patient can’t protect their own seizure. Before [as level 2 EMTs] there was nothing we could do. Now we can give them meds to break the seizure. This also alleviates some of the burden on the hospital.”
The response to emergencies will remain the same. A fire truck and ambulance will be dispatched to every medical emergency with 2 paramedics on the ambulance and 3 additional EMTs on the fire engine. “It’s a team approach,” Perkov said. “It’s not just one paramedic treating the patient. We show up with all three [EMT] levels. It’s not anything different; it’s just more for the patient.”
“It’s always helpful to have extra hands to lift and help with the patient,” Chief Brent said. “And if a patient is very sick, we might need more than one person to help the patient.”
Another benefit of having a paramedic on board the ambulance is that the patient receives similar care to what he or she would receive upon arrival in the emergency room, “we don’t have to drive as fast anymore,” Brent said.
“We can take our time [getting to the hospital],” Perkov added, “we don’t need lights and siren. There’s so much we can do right there in the ambulance.”
Chief Brent anticipates that the new paramedic program will be “fully on line by January first.” This is the Chief’s fourth grant since he began his service for South Burlington. He has written and received other grants for the department for gear, the “jaws of life,” and several rescue vehicles, among other items, totaling $3.4 million.
SOURCE: Annalisa Parent, Correspondent