Inside your local fire department
By LUKE PUTVIN | Last Updated November 19, 2019
One of the people we were able to talk with is Jay Ford, a Medical Services Officer (MSO) who has been working in the area for 16 years. He started in Edmonds and came here a couple years ago when the Regional Fire Authority (RFA) was established.
All medics are cross-staffed as firefighters, but their focus is still on the medical side; they respond to all fires and major events. To be hired, one needs an EMT or paramedic certification, but the education doesn’t stop there. There is continuing education for EMTs and medics such as online classes with testing. There are monthly focuses on special topics such as respiratory, cardiac and others.
Ford, as an MSO, said that one of the most important parts of his job is the real-time quality assurance. Part of his role is to look for things to improve upon and give that feedback to the crew as soon as possible.
Ford also mentioned that South County Fire has a bit of a medic-heavy model with a paramedic at every individual station, and this particular one had several. The role of the medical side at a fire is different than those working actively to put out the fire. Patients are one priority, and another priority is if one of the firefighters are injured. The medical team sets up rehab on site so there is somewhere to check vitals and rest.
Nick Tastad and Ted Martin, an EMT and paramedic respectively, described an “average” day. The two both mentioned showing up a bit early for some mental preparation. When they’re not on calls, they do training, rig checks and other important tasks around the station.
The fire department is the jack of all trades, explained Captain Nicole Picknell. “We could be training every day, every minute. How to get a cat out of a tree, how to take care of hazmat, oil spills and now we’re into social services. If you can think of it, the fire department does it,” she said.
Another huge difficulty is being away from family, said Tastad. “Stepping away from home and missing Christmas with our spouse and younger kids is difficult,” he said. “It’s probably even more difficult on our family than it is on us, but that’s part of the difficulty of the job.”
Picknell went on to speak about a relatively new program in the department, the Community Resource Paramedic (CRP) program. Only about six years old, it began because people at the fire department noticed there were a lot of people who kept calling 911 that didn’t necessarily need emergency services.
The fire department responded to many calls that were individuals who had fallen in the home or even alcoholics and other addicts who were looking for detox. “We’ve also been called where the person needed us to get their television remote,” Picknell said.
CRP is for people that don’t need emergency care; from there, they can provide connections and assistance whether that be needing grab bars in the home, a wheelchair or something else. Individuals who would call with non-emergency issues would tax the system of those responding to them as well as local ERs.
“When we first started this, we had 50 people that were creating 400 calls,” Picknell said. “That’s 400 calls that could be needed to be on a heart attack or a fire.” She mentioned that, of course they would still go and help, but now with CRP, the emergency responders can leave certain things to them and go to emergencies. “The goal is to keep them from utilizing the ER and 911 when that’s not really what they need.”
CRP coordinates with local hospitals, mental health professionals and have recently started coordinating with police. “If it’s someone who hits my system, they’re likely hitting other systems too,” Picknell said.
For more information on the CRP program including contact information, visit www.southsnofire.org and find Community Resource Paramedic on “Our Services.” Other general information about South County Fire can also be found on their website.