One question asked of North Collier Fire Control and Rescue District is “Why does both an ambulance and fire truck respond when 911 is called?” The public wants to know why it makes sense to send a fire truck with hoses, ladders and a full crew of firefighters when someone is having a medical emergency. With 55% of the more than 19,400 calls for service for North Collier Fire Rescue in 2017 being of a medical nature, this is an essential question. There are key reasons why.
First, it is a matter of available resources. North Collier response includes up to 16 apparatus on any given day that are available for medical emergencies within its boundaries. As compared to Collier County EMS, whose countywide response area is more than 1,900 square miles, North Collier’s resources are concentrated within a 264 square mile area. When minutes matter, it is crucial for the closest unit to respond. Many times, North Collier Fire will be the closest unit to the patient, thus saving valuable time that may make the difference between life and death. Keep in mind that the district has smaller squads (ambulance type vehicles) and small trucks to provide primary response to medical emergencies. If you see a ladder truck or engine responding, it is because it is the closest unit or the squad is busy on another call.
Second, when a medical call comes in, dispatchers may not have clear or complete information. This is understandable as the person calling may be an immediate family member or bystander in shock from the emergency they are witnessing. For instance, EMS may arrive to find that the patient is alone and unable to get to the door to allow entry, and the door must be forcibly opened. Firefighters are trained to handle scenarios like this, and to accommodate the unexpected.
Third, as an All Hazards agency, all North Collier shift personnel are cross-trained to respond to both fire and medical incidents with every firefighter certified as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). Of these nearly 200 shift firefighters, more than half are certified as Paramedics and thus able to administer Advanced Life Support (ALS) like our EMS partners. All North Collier first-line apparatus are equipped with an average of $50,000 of medical equipment to ensure rapid and high quality care to patients in need. This is the same equipment as found in EMS ambulances. The major difference between North Collier medical response apparatus and an ambulance? It is the ability to transport a patient to the hospital, which remains the responsibility of Collier County EMS. However, at the request of EMS, North Collier paramedics will accompany EMS in the ambulance to the hospital to ensure there are two paramedics attending to the patient’s needs.
Lastly, many emergency scenes benefit from having additional personnel on scene. Assessing the patient, obtaining vital signs, providing oxygen therapy, moving the patient when necessary, placing advanced airways, monitoring cardiac function and administering drugs intravenously are but a few of the innumerable procedures sometimes required for just one patient. As Collier County EMS ambulances typically carry just two personnel, these procedures can be accomplished more efficiently with additional North Collier Fire personnel on scene. Additionally, once it is determined that fire apparatus is no longer needed on scene, it is released and put back in service as soon as possible.
So, the next time that you witness both a fire truck and an ambulance responding to a medical emergency, you can be assured that it is in the best interest of the patient. The cost to dispatch a fire engine in order to have additional help immediately available is small when compared to the loss of precious minutes in a life or death situation.