Iowa city FD aims to be full EMT-level provider by 2022

All 60 members of the Ames Fire Department are on track to be EMT-certified by January


Isabella Rosario
Ames Tribune

AMES, Iowa — The Ames Fire Department has had emergency medical responder-level status — which allows firefighters to render first aid to injured people before an ambulance arrives — since 1996.

As of Oct. 1, Ames firefighters have been providing more advanced care at the emergency medical technician level, and the department is on track to be a full EMT-level service provider by January 2022, Ames Fire Chief Rich Higgins said. That means every rig that goes out of the Ames Fire Department will have to have an EMT-certified firefighter on it.

"There's nothing worse than showing up on scene and ... telling a family that, 'Sorry, there's nothing more that we can do until an ambulance gets here'," Higgins said. "Now, at the EMT level, we will provide some more lifesaving skills that we weren't able to before.

"That's empowering."

Ames firefighters with EMT certification can now carry equipment and provide treatment that they were unable to before. Their first response bags include nebulizers, nasal airway tubes and Epi-Pens. They can monitor blood sugar levels, apply splints and immobilize patients' spines with a cervical collar and backboard.

Reaching this conditional service level came after years of planning and training with staff at the Mary Greeley Medical Center, Higgins said.

Mary Greeley first asked the Ames Fire Department to upgrade its medical services to the EMT level in 2016. The two parties discussed the request but did not reach an agreement, according to city documents. In 2019, Mary Greeley gave notice that it was canceling its medical services contract with the fire department, after which both organizations continued to work together until a new contract could be negotiated.

Last November, the Ames City Council approved a new contract between Mary Greeley and the city. Under the terms of the agreement, Mary Greeley will provide Ames with all of the necessary EMT equipment, training and disposable supplies, as well as covering incentive pay for firefighters who do go through the training. Under the terms of the contract, EMT certification will be required for any firefighter hired after Jan. 1, 2020, and must be completed within 18 months of employment.

Higgins, who became the city's fire chief in 2018, said the desire for the department to upgrade its medical services was there from the start.

"It wasn't that no one wanted to — everyone wanted to," Higgins said. "We just had to work through the logistics."

A total of 60 firefighters work for the Ames Fire Department. Prior to the department's latest contract with Mary Greeley, around 60% of Ames firefighters had individual EMT certification, but they were unable to legally provide EMT-level services on the job, training officer AJ Plach said. He estimates around 70% of the Ames Fire Department now has EMT certification.

"The initial EMT class is 160 hours. They meet two times a week and do lecture theatres and hands-on components," Plach said. "There's also ride-along time, where they do time in the ER and in the ambulance, so they kind of get a vast variety of experience."

The Ames Fire Department was "probably one of the last" Iowa fire departments of its size still operating at the emergency medical responder level, shift commander Nick Luchessi said.

"Moving to EMT is basically bringing us up to speed with all our other counterparts," Luchessi said.

Higgins said he hopes the higher level of service will lead to better patient outcomes. In the next few months, he said, the department's goal is to "get as many people up to EMT as we need" to have enough EMT-certified firefighters spread throughout the city's three fire stations.

"None of this would have happened without the partnership between Mary Greeley Medical Center and the city of Ames Fire Department," Higgins said. "Our community is really lucky, because you don't always have those partnerships."

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McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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