East Pierce Fire & Rescue (EPF&R) responds to 9-1-1 medical aid calls in Edgewood, Milton, Sumner, Bonney Lake, Lake Tapps, South Prairie and rural Buckley, serving a community of 88,000 people spread out over an area of 150 square miles.
In 2017, it is estimated that EPF&R will respond to more than 6,500 medical aid calls. EPF&R Medic units (fire department ambulances), staffed with trained firefighter-EMTs and paramedics will transport almost 5,000 patients to area hospitals. Ambulance transport is provided to district residents without any “out-of-pocket” cost. The department bills private and public insurance providers to recover those funds to support department medical services, but other funds are “written off” against the department emergency medical services (EMS) levy, as permitted by federal regulations.
People frequently have questions about the 9-1-1 response to their emergencies, ranging from how the dispatchers handled the call, to questions regarding what the paramedics did for the patient, and why a particular hospital was selected for transport of a patient.
1. Why do the 911 dispatchers ask so many questions, aren’t they wasting time?
- Even while the dispatcher is talking to you on the phone, other dispatchers are already starting emergency units to the scene.
- The dispatchers gather valuable information and then relay this via radio to the firefighters and paramedics while en route to the incident. This information may determine if they need additional units to respond and what equipment to bring into the house.
- Dispatchers can provide valuable CPR and first aid instructions over the phone, so don’t hang up until told to do so by the dispatcher.
2. Why do fire engines, and so many firefighters, show up when I call 9-1-1?
(all I needed was a ride to the hospital for a sprained ankle!)
- The emergency medical service (EMS) system is set up so that the closest fire engine responds to get to the scene quickly and start providing care. The Medic units (fire department ambulances) often come from farther away.
- For certain 9-1-1 responses, at least four, and sometimes as many as 6 to 8 firefighters and paramedics are needed to provide critical treatment and to safely move patients into the Medic unit. CPR calls are very labor-intensive. Since we have only 2-3 firefighters on each engine, plus two FFs and paramedics on the Medic unit, sometimes three units may be needed.
3. Why did the paramedics spend so much time at our house? They just should have carried my husband out to their Medic unit, and taken him to the hospital.
- Medic units are “mobile intensive care units” on wheels. The paramedics are trained to provide advanced life support. They can start IVs, administering up to 35 medications, defibrillate patients, and place advanced breathing tubes into patient’s lungs. In some cases they consult with an on-duty physician for treatment orders.
- For some critically ill patients it is better to treat and stabilize them at the scene before taking them to the hospital. CPR patients are usually resuscitated on the scene since that provides the best chance of survival.
- For other time-sensitive cases, such as a stroke call, we try to quickly move the patient out to the Medic unit at the scene and begin critical treatments on the way to the hospital.
4. We should have just driven to the hospital; we could have gotten there faster.
- As mentioned earlier, firefighters and paramedics can begin treating and stabilizing patients even before they get to the hospital, improving outcomes for patients suffering from respiratory problems, heart attacks, diabetic-related incidents, and many other emergencies.
- The paramedics can also “alert” the hospital so they are prepared for your arrival—this is particularly critical for patients suffering from heart attacks and strokes. The hospitals need time to prepare teams and equipment for the arrival of a patient.
5. Will the paramedics take me to the hospital where my own doctor can take care of me?
- In most cases, paramedics will take you to the hospital of choice, if it is a reasonable distance away. We routinely take people to hospitals such as St. Francis, in Federal Way, MultiCare Auburn, MultiCare Good Samaritan Hospital, as well as all of the Tacoma area hospitals.
- Certain patients, such as those with critical injuries or burns, or heart attack patients, need to go to a “designated” hospital with special staff and equipment to be able to care for those patients. Critical burn and certain trauma patients will be transported to the regional trauma center at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, as an example.
6. Will I get an ambulance bill if someone in my family is taken to the hospital in an East Pierce fire department Medic unit?
- Patients who live in the East Pierce Fire & Rescue district and are transported by an East Pierce Medic unit will have no “out-of-pocket” ambulance expenses. The individual will receive billing information paperwork, which must be completed so the district can bill Medicare or private insurance, if it is available. However any co-pays will be “covered” by the district’s EMS Levy. If an East Pierce resident calls 9-1-1 who has no insurance, the entire bill is covered.
- Non-residents receive full bills for ambulance transport.
- There is never any charge for us to respond to a scene and assess a patient
—so “When in Doubt, Check it Out!”