CAMDEN — On Friday, Jan. 6, North East Mobile Health was already busy on a call in Lincolnville when another medical issue presented in Camden. When Rockland EMS couldn’t take the call, Thomaston Ambulance was requested. Yet, Warren Ambulance happened to be leaving the ER at the time, so North East asked that Warren respond from there, with Thomaston continuing with a paramedic. Because the hospital was still several minutes away from the location of the patient, a Camden firefighter at his station hopped in the Camden Fire Dept. utility truck, conducted a preliminary assessment of the patient, and then directed the Warren crew on where to enter the building and how to reach the patient.
This week, as Camden Fire Dept. begins stocking its new first response firetruck, the crew awaits approval for an EMS non-transport, first-response license.
The goal is not to do North East’s job, but – as first on scene – to begin care in a helpful and meaningful way, and to then hand off that care to North East upon its arrival.
Under the license, Camden firefighters will begin responding to acute (urgent), non-facility, medical calls in their town to help patients before the arrival of an ambulance, and to assist North East by assessing and treating immediate, life-threatening afflictions.
This is a bigger role than the lift assists, trail rescues, CPR, and privacy control (holding curtains around a patient to protect against prying eyes) that firefighters often assume.
Last August, the Camden Fire Dept. reached out to both Maine EMS and North East to inform them of the CFD goal of being fully operational with EMS capacity by Jan. 1, 2023. It is the most recent development in an effort that began in 2020 to train more first responders in emergency medical care.
The pandemic slowed the initiative, said Camden Fire Chief Chris Farley. Then, a working agreement with North East needed to be crafted.
Over the past week, discussions with the ambulance service have been productive, and more are planned.
Beginning with an EMT course in 2020, a number of firefighters, police, ski patrollers and community members began training. Today, the Camden FD now has at least one EMT-licensed crew member on each day shift. For after-hours, call shifts are being considered with an eye toward having at least one licensed person at all times.
And, though Camden has a new truck and is acquiring medical equipment, the push continues in encouraging the other towns within the NEMHS contract zone (Hope, Lincolnville, Rockport) to follow suit.
The consultants who conducted an EMS review for the four towns and Pen Bay Medical Center in 2019-2020 recommended that all four towns have EMS first responders, and that one of the communities be the lead agency, and provide a service director.
“After that report came out, we met with the primary consultant, and it was agreed, because we have more full-time staff, that we would be the lead agency and start the process,” said Farley.
Although Camden is not mandating that volunteer firefighters become EMTs, the FD is already foreseeing a benefit to the half dozen members who will be licensed by summer.
“If we are at a fire, we’re going to have medically trained people there,” said Farley. “So whether it’s somebody who’s there, or first responders who need assistance, we are going to be more capable of providing that assistance, because we have the trained people.”
Currently, North East is called to all structure fires in Rockport, Hope, Lincolnville, and Camden as a precaution. Now, their services will be freed to respond to other calls, or only to the fire scene if patient transport to the hospital is necessary.
Camden, Hope, and Lincolnville have personnel signed up for the newest EMT course (tuition paid by the community college, and a waitlist is up to at least 12 more potential students.) CFD advocates that local law enforcement train in basic first responder medicine, as well.
“We want to encourage anyone who wants to get involved in Rockport, and Lincolnville, and Hope, to obtain that EMS education and become involved, so that we’re continuing that four-town collaboration, and we’re doing this together,” he said.
Farley continues to find connections among Camden organizations with a collaborate first responder network. The new parking enforcement officer has signed up for the EMT class, and Farley has woven relationships with a couple of EMTs who cover Camden Snow Bowl slopes for ski patrol.
“Even just conversations about how we would transport somebody down off the mountain, it’s great that we can be doing that all together, and that we’re making this all work cooperatively,” said Farley.
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