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EMR making a difference
The number of CFA brigades involved in emergency medical response (EMR) now sits at seven integrated and three volunteer. To get a sense of their workload, they responded to 61 EMR events in January 2016 alone.
EMR brigades co-respond with Ambulance Victoria (AV) to a select group of Priority 0 calls, best summarised as ‘not conscious, not breathing or breathing uncertain’. If the brigade is first on scene, they provide medical treatment of symptoms until paramedics arrive and the patient is handed over.
EMR tasks range from setting up spine boards and ventilation through to starting compressions and CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) to administering oxygen and defibrillation.
Shepparton Fire Brigade has been involved since CFA introduced EMR in 2011 and attends an average of 125 EMR incidents a year. Leading Firefighter Ryan Kervin is the acting coordinator with 31 of the current career firefighters trained up.
“The local paramedics really appreciate our attendance and even ask for us,” said Ryan, “and we’re there to assist them, not to take over. The safety of people is always our highest priority and EMR is all about improving survival rates of patients.”
The members complete a refresher every four years and a minimum of four skills maintenance sessions with a paramedic educator each year which cover all aspects of EMR practice.
‘There’s definitely job satisfaction,” continued Ryan. “Even if there’s not a positive outcome, the ambos acknowledge that it’s better to do something rather than nothing. Sometimes a good outcome might be a patient stabilised so their family gets to say goodbye. That’s huge.
“Another benefit is if one of our members becomes unwell at a scene perhaps from smoke inhalation.”
But Ryan admits that EMR can take its toll on members.
“There’s the opportunity for individuals to pull back and of course we’ve called peer support in as well as talked through incidents with AV,” he said. “Most of all, we look after each other and talk a lot about jobs; just keep chatting.”
Berwick Captain Craig Sanderson also pulls no punches: EMR can be confronting.
“With road accident rescue you don’t necessarily touch a person, but with EMR there’s contact and that bond is formed,” he said. “You’re also often responding into the home so you might be surrounded by distressed family members and are predominantly dealing with them.
“On the other hand, it brings an extra dimension to what you’re doing for your community. Two paramedics on scene can only do oxygen and CPR but when we arrive they’re freed up to put in IVs [intravenous lines] and begin drug therapy. Treatment options expand because we’re there.
“You can’t get more satisfaction than the wins we do have.”
This volunteer brigade has bought their own dedicated EMR Ford Territory, giving them flexibility as not everyone has a truck licence. EMR is incorporated into their regular training once a month with reaccreditation taking place every two years.
“We don’t have new members do EMR but give them plenty of time to hone their firefighting skills,” continued Craig. “If a member is new to EMR, we automatically call in peer support for their first few calls. They’re at our fingertips.”
To access peer support, contact your local peer coordinator. CFA also offers a range of other services to support its members in managing their mental health and wellbeing. For more information go to cfa.vic.gov.au/mentalhealth.