Eastside Fire & Rescue plans emergency medical service pilot program
February 28, 2012
By Caleb Heeringa
Why send three people to do a job that only takes one?
That’s been a common rhetorical question for fire officials trying to handle a steadily increasing workload — about two-thirds of which are medical calls — in a time of tight public finances. Eastside Fire & Rescue and King County’s Emergency Medical Service officials will put the theory to the test this year with a Community Medical Technician pilot program.
Under the program, the agency will staff a one-person unit that will respond in an SUV to nonlife-threatening medical calls — a broken finger, bad back pain or a nosebleed, for example. As of now, the standard EMT crew responds to those calls in a fully equipped aid car or fire truck, tying up three responders that might be needed at more major calls.
EFR Chief Lee Soptich said the pilot program may prove to be more efficient and a cheaper model than adding another full-service unit to keep up with call volumes — which have grown around 3 percent per year recently.
“This gets us some data so that we can find out,” Soptich said. “Down the road it may be something we can do to stem the rising tide of calls … instead of having to add crews.”
The agency has about 5,100 medical calls a year; Deputy Chief Greg Tryon said the department estimates that the CMTs would be able to respond to about 400 of those.
The pilot program is funded by a $243,000 grant from King County EMS, which handles life-threatening paramedic response and is funded by a 30-cents-per-$1,000 of assessed value levy across the county. About half of the firefighters in the agency — those who signed up for the hour-and-a-half training — will be eligible to work the medical technician program shift as overtime on top of their normal EFR hours, Tryon said.
In addition to providing minor medical care, the unit is trained in identifying patients who may benefit from social services, like senior citizens who may need a part-time nurse or help around the house, for example.
Soptich said the pilot project is modeled after a similar two- person Community Medical Technician program used by the Kent Fire Department and South King Fire & Rescue in 2010. He said leaders in Kent credit the program for a reduction of 350 calls from people that were “familiar with the system.”
“A lot of them were people that didn’t know that there were any other options than to call the fire department,” Soptich said.
The unit will be on duty from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. — the hours the agency expects to have the most minor medical calls. It will be based out of EFR headquarters, on Newport Way in Issaquah, but will respond anywhere within a 20-minute response radius — an area that stretches as far north as Station 82 in the Sahalee area and as far east as the west part of North Bend, Tryon said.
Sammamish Mayor Tom Odell, one of the city’s two representatives on the board, said he was skeptical that the agency could afford the program once the county grant money runs out, but said the model makes sense — not every medical incident needs three people on scene. The agency’s board has discussed using a similar model to respond to some of the medical calls at Providence Point, a retirement community near Station 83 — which is mostly funded by Sammamish but spends more time responding to Issaquah than any other partner.
“I’m interested in seeing how this turns out,” Odell said. “Conceptually, it seems like a good way to go.”
Tryon said that no matter what happens, the program is going to give local firefighters a deeper understanding of citizens’ needs.
“Whatever becomes of the program, the information that the firefighters gain will be of great help in their day-to-day encounters with the citizens of Eastside Fire & Rescue,” Tryon wrote in an email. “This program is giving us access to resources for our customers that we have been unaware of in the past, and should be of great help to our patients in the future.”