Fire & EMS
Dual Duty – October 2012
By Lee Sagert
By Lee Sagert
They call me the fireman
They call me the fireman
That’s my name
Makin’ my rounds all over town
Puttin’ out old flames
Well everybody’d like to have what I’ve got
I can cool ‘em down while they’re smolderin’ hot
I’m the fireman
That’s my name
– George Strait, The Fireman
Anyone who has listened to country singer George Strait has heard this tune. Recently, when that song came on my truck radio, I began to question just what the label firefighter truly defines. Undoubtedly, the stereotype of the tough, vigorous hero riding in a shiny red fire truck is an image anyone can picture. But on a serious note, it became increasingly apparent to me that few people have an accurate understanding of what we do as rescuers.
In large urban settings and small country towns, all of us are aware that we never truly leave our work at the end of a shift. Often I find myself envious of nine-to-five workers who can simply shut down the computer, lock the office door and forget work until they return the next morning. It may surprise some folks to know that when we are off duty we still carry on our day-to-day business as firefighters or paramedics. For example, I remember moving into a new house a few years ago and a neighbour came over to greet me. “Oh, great!” she said, “I feel so much safer knowing that we have a firefighter next door.” I’m sure that this scenario is familiar to many of you and illustrates my point, that we are firefighters 24/7, whether we like it or not. My neighbour assumed that if an emergency occurred at her home, I would be there to help. It is evident that our profession is held to a higher standard than most; we are expected to be healthy, act with safety in mind and set good examples. Many people do not realize that, even out of uniform, we are to some extent always on duty. Interestingly, just weeks after moving into that new home, my doorbell rang early one morning and there stood my neighbor obviously in distress; her mother had suffered a medical emergency and her first reaction was to go find the firefighter.
In previous columns I have highlighted the benefits of integrating EMS into the fire service. We have discussed an all-hazards, multi-role response to caring for our communities, and the fact is that we can no longer divide our duties by responsibility. No longer do we simply fight fires, but we also respond to everything from medical emergencies to fluid spills. The public expects the highest level of professionalism from the fire service. Our roles will continue to grow and I believe we can make ourselves shine by showing society all the additional duties we perform. Structure fires are on the decline, yet other community needs are rising. It is vital to answer those demands in order to maintain healthy and safe communities. A good example of this is the city of Seattle, Wash. Year after year, Seattle is recognized as the best city in which to have a heart attack. Seattle’s famed Medic One system boasts a survival rate of almost 52 per cent. Not only has Medic One been recognized by its medical peers on a global scale, but it has also gained great support from the citizens it protects. Through teamwork, public education and proven success stories, the Seattle Fire Department clearly does more than put out fires, and the public knows it.
The Webster’s Dictionary defines a firefighter as “one who extinguishes fires.” We all know there are many other tasks we do as rescuers. I recall a particularly busy night shift this summer during which I needed to use a full cache of skills and tools. The shift began with a standard equipment check, which, after calibrating gas monitors, updating onboard computers, rotating medications and doing other maintenance work on the engines, took about an hour. A waterline break at the mall, our first call, was easily controlled, but it was obvious the store’s employees had no idea how to deal with the massive pond of water. Needless to say, seven firefighters and a few squeegees saved the day – and I know this good deed will pay dividends for us in the future. Next, as a group of Girl Guides were given a station tour and were educated on fire safety, we were dispatched to attend a vehicle crash with patients trapped. This incident had multiple patients and suddenly I was thrust from my firefighting duties into running the hydraulic tools. Once the extrication was complete, I switched to the paramedic role and assisted by starting IV lines in the ambulance. Finally it seemed as if things were slowing down and plans for a nice dinner were in the works when a gentleman collapsed at a local gymnasium. “CPR in progress,” the radio called as we rushed to the scene. I was assigned to the airway for this cardiac arrest, and I carefully passed an ET tube and intubated the patient. Shortly after a few rounds of CPR and ventilations, a pulse began to strengthen and the room sighed with relief. I recall thinking to myself that night, we truly do it all – we truly are multi-role rescuers. One minute I’m operating a squeegee at a flood; the next minute a heavy rescue tool at a crash scene. Then I shift to educating students much as a teacher would and, lastly, I manoeuvre a delicate laryngoscope like an anesthesiologist. Our training and practice surely paid off. As we drove back to the station I began to chuckle, thinking to myself, maybe it is easier to just call me the fireman.
Lee Sagert is a career paramedic/firefighter with the City of Lethbridge in Alberta and a volunteer lieutenant with Coaldale Emergency Services. Lee is a former flight paramedic with S.T.A.R.S. and has trained at Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland. He resides in Coaldale, Alta., and enjoys photography and spending time with family. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.