Ben Whitener shared a recent conversation he had with Brentwood City Council candidate Carissa Pillow who is apparently urging ECCFPD to stop responding to all of its medical calls. While she is entitled to this opinion, ultimately this type of thinking is dangerous and puts folks in Brentwood and the District at greater risk during an emergency.
I’ve spoken to her on several occasions and we always seem butt heads on the fire first response issue, while on other issues we very much agree. It’s not that she has an overall poor platform she is running on or is a poor candidate–there have been much worse, she and I simply disagree on leaving engines in the station. With that said, it might ultimately be a deal breaker for myself and many others based on the final list of candidates.
What is troubling me is a candidate has taken such a poor position that jeopardizes the public safety of the people she wants to represent when most of the research is heavily against her proposal of not having fire engines respond to medical. Fire first response is an asset to the community and part of the county plan which experts have tweaked over the years to ensure residents of the County reserve the best possible care in an emergency situation in as quickest time possible.
Here is the conversation that Ben Whitener wrote out:
Via Facebook post by Ben Whitener:
So after the conclusion of last night’s ECCFPD Fire Board meeting, one of the candidates for Brentwood City Council told me that she does not feel that it is appropriate that our fire engines respond to medical calls. I was floored and dumbfounded all at once! Especially since I live in Brentwood and do not want our Fire/EMS service cut any further than it already has been.
I attempted to discuss the issue with her by stating that two paramedics on an ambulance already have enough going on when it comes to taking care of a moderately to critically ill patient, and having three additional personnel available to assist really helps, and provides for a more positive patient outcome.
She responded by stating that not every call requires a firefighter to perform CPR. I could not believe that was the only thing she could come up with! I then realized that she has a very narrow focus/idea of what firefighters do on medical calls. After I brought up various cases where having more than just ambulance based paramedics on scene really makes a difference in patient care, she informed me that there are members of the public that side with her like that was supposed to make it medical fact.
I guess I could have chosen my words a bit differently, but I stated that most members of the public are ignorant as to what firefighters do on medical calls. I did not mean that in a negative way, but just what the definition of ignorant states.
Maybe I should have used the word uninformed, unaware, unfamiliar, et cetera. She did not like my response in the least bit and then stated something about my statement being more of the same as far as attacks made by firefighters toward the public, and that she was a member of the public.
I then informed her that I am just another member of the public and do not work as a firefighter, and as such, I can say as I please. The conversation was then over. I had so many more points to make too!!! Oh well – my comments and points will have to wait for another day.
To all of my AMR friends – how would it go over with you if the fire engine no longer responded to any medical calls? How much harder would it make your job? Would it be cool with you if there were no longer any firefighters to take vitals, administer Oxygen, package a patient and lift them as needed, flood IVs, perform CPR, c-spine a patient, initiate patient care and obtain a history prior to your arrival, and the list goes on and on?
I personally want a fire engine showing up along with an ambulance when it comes to my family and me. Any other service model just doesn’t make sense at all, especially given that it would not save the fire district enough money to even remotely make a dent in the budget deficit. This just shows a complete lack of common sense and comprehension of EMS by this person.
I sincerely hope that we get some other qualified and pragmatic candidates. So far Gene Clare has my vote, but we will see if anyone else steps up who deserves the job.
Just my two cents.
This is very similar to her comments on the June 25 ECCFPD meeting where she stated.
She (Carissa Pillow) stated her disappointment with the failure of the Yes on S campaign. She explained that Brentwood needs its second station because they pay 48% of the District and will be receiving 33% of the services. She thought the 4-station hybrid model was a solid option. She went on to explain that the District should stop responding to medical calls as firefighters should be fighting fires while AMR should handle medical. She stated she realized she was asking the District to drop 90% of their service calls. She moved onto to discussion about not wanting funds going towards an elected Board and how it should be a citizen appointed committee while instead of a volunteer firefighter program it should be invested in a volunteer first response service.
The reason why I wanted to bring this forward was because I had a similar conversation with Ms. Pillow’s after the June 25 ECCFPD meeting which we got into some pretty complex discussions and hypothetical situations. Midway through the conversation, Bob Mankin and I were joined with by two firefighters who further explained the importance of having fire first responders. The four of us went apparently 0-4 that night in trying to educate Ms. Pillow’s because a month later she is singing the same tune.
Ultimately, her plan is to have Dispatch play “20-qustions” during an emergency situation with AMR picking up the slack. After the game of 20-questions, dispatch will give the “okay” to send an engine head towards a scene. The problem with this plan talking to someone on the phone and arriving on scene is two completely different realities. A lot of the time, at no fault to dispatch, what was explained on the phone is not what the reality of the scene is.
As you can see, dispatch is now playing the guessing game with odds I’d rather not play against when someones life is at stake all in the name to save gas and maintenance money on engines. When we have an apparent $3 million debt, this suggestion saves around $40,000 per station annually. This plan ultimately puts the cost of a life at $40,000.
I would encourage Ms. Pillows and others to read the document The Relationship of First Response to EMS from the Contra Costa Health Services Emergency Medical Service Agency (EMS).
Being a Critical Care Nurse in Trauma ICU, I would hope she would understand what ambulances and AMR can and cannot do in the field. If she reads the document, she would see there is multiple times within a matter of five pages where it states “ambulance service cannot duplicate fire first response times or activities.” The report also is clear when it says Fire first responders typically arrive 2‐5 minutes before an ambulance, but, depending on the location of the call and the location of the responding units, that interval can be 10 minutes or more.
What Ms. Pillows is not accounting for is the 2-5 minutes response time is after a call has been made to dispatch—it could vary from a matter of seconds or even minutes after an accident has occurred which means the response time is technically longer.
For example, during a car accident, someone calls 9-1-1, it’s going to take at least an additional minute to get dispatch all the information so they can appropriately dispatch the call.
Since Ms. Pillows states some calls do not require firefighters to perform CPR, I’d also encourage her to invest time in reading the portion of the document which explains how Importantly, fire first responders provide scene management, safety oversight, and rescue services (e.g., extricating patients from motor vehicle accidents). When patients require transport by helicopter (most often critical trauma patients), fire responders are required to manage the landing site. Fire personnel have all hazard capabilities not easily duplicated or replaced by other personnel.
About a month ago, Chief Louder from CONFIRE spoke at the Contra Costa Taxpayers Association where he answered a series of questions (its all on video), here is the question that involves why engines are in the emergency call business.
CoCo Tax Association Lunch Question: Why are you in the emergency medical call business? Is there some way to transfer that responsibility and transfer cost? Why does an engine show up to my medical emergency?
Louder: “The county Emergency Medical Services plan (EMS) plan calls for an integrated system. It’s not something the fire service dreamed up, it’s the county plan. Fire service first response, then transportation and continued treatment by ambulances (AMR). If you look at our system you find out the systems complement each other. It’s not an either or, but an integrated systematic approach to medical care and patient care.
AMR has a finite amount of units that they staff every day and they depend on fire service units to get their quickly and to be able to access the patient, to be able to treat and stabilize the patient while they bring the transport unit and then if necessary to transport to the hospital. That is what the county plan calls for. AMR acknowledge that’s exactly what the plan calls for that they depend on both of our resources and responses to protect the community.
The other important thing to remember is that whenever they pick up a patient and take someone to the hospital, they are out of service for 45 minutes to an hour and fifteen minutes. By the time they treat, transport, turn them over to hospital staff, clean the unit, and restock the engine and all the stuff that it takes to do that and that fire unit that was their initially to help the patient goes back in service and take next emergency call.
The other important thing to remember, and I mentioned this earlier, is that our staffing level and our needs of one firefighter per thousand the 28 fire stations is based on fire response and fire needs. Everything we do from a medical standpoint truly is added value. It doesn’t mean we can reduce our capacity or it doesn’t mean we can reduce our units, but it allows us to enhance our service and provide additional service to the community which is already mandated for us to have those capabilities.
It is an integrated system by county policy; it is a system that compliments between ARM and the fire service. We are going to be there anyhow, we have to staff our stations for fire protection. We are providing additional service by being able to run the emergency medical calls.
It doesn’t make sense that if you have a staff unit with paramedics and EMT sitting close to that patient, and we many times arrive first, that we would be sitting in a fire station waiting for a fire call and not provide service to that community. So that is what we are trying to do, maximize our performance, maximize our efficiency and provide the services the community needs.
People ask why we show up with a fire truck… the reality is the fire truck it is a very versatile and flexible platform for us to be able to conduct our operation. If we respond from the firehouse to an emergency medical call, as soon as that patient is taken care of by AMR, that unit (fire engine) becomes available for the next call. If that happens to be a fire call or a rescue call our firefighters are already on a fire fighting unit and respond directly from that incident to the next incident. They don’t have to go back and switch units. They don’t have to have a single person driving a fire truck that is trying to go on an emergency response, watch the road, talk on the radio, look at a map, and do all that type of stuff themselves. So we keep them together as a unit, they go to the calls, they get in service and they get ready for the next call and it really gives us a very efficient, flexible, platform for us to do multiple types of operations for an all hazards system.”
If people still are not satisfied with the County Health and Services document nor Chief Louder’s explanation and would rather wait for an ambulance, I’d encourage you to try an exercise which will prove this point as to why response times are important.
Dunk your head under water for two to five minutes and see how it feels. Chances are you will prop your head above water pretty quickly. Next, repeat this exercise with a ”friend” who knows CPR (just in case), and give them strict instructions not to let your head above water for a period of two to five minutes—your choice.
Now imagine an emergency situation where you are helpless and can’t prop your head above water. I guarantee you that you will not care who is showing up or what it costs as long as you are cared for. And in a real world scenario, can AMR cut a victim out of a car? Do they carry the appropriate tools? Can AMR knock down a front door? Imagine AMR arriving on scene to an accident only to call dispatch saying they need an engine before they can get to work–talk about a loss of time when seconds count!
What Ms. Pillows and others consistently fail to realize is that this is not the 1950’s where firefighters respond to only fires, the services have evolved and is effective through trial and error of the past—it’s like going from dial-up to high-speed internet. Dial-up works, but why use it when you can get better service!
Since some are stuck on the semantics of fire departments being fire only response, then maybe it’s time to change the name to “Emergency Response Units” so the confusion can stop.
Leaving engines in stations is a flawed argument and that only thing it does is put East County residents in greater danger while firefighters will improve their poker skills because that is what they would be doing by sitting in stations waiting for a fire.
Like I stated above, Ms. Pillow’s has some good ideas, but this fire issue may be a deal breaker depending on the final list of candidates. Brentwood has a big decision come November with its city council and it’s time to begin vetting the process and finding out just where your candidates stand on issues such as emergency response.
To find out more about Carissa Pillow, please visit her campaign website.