Fire agencies team up to improve training, service

Published on Thu, Nov 22, 2001 by Meg Olson

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Fire agencies team up to improve training, service

By Meg Olson

Continuing on the bigger is better trend that brought fire districts #3, #5, and #13 together as North Whatcom Fire and Rescue Services (NWFRS), that organization’s board approved participation in a training organization that would bring together most of the county’s fire districts.

“We all see a need for training,” said Bob Hamstra, acting chief of district #3 who was approved as assistant chief of NWFRS at the November 15 board meeting. “Instead of each organization inventing the wheel again, we do it all at once together.”

The new organization, Fire and Rescue Interagency Training Services (FRITS), will expand on the existing county training institute, said NWFRS chief Mike Campbell. That organization brought eight county fire districts together to share training responsibilities three years ago. Each district paid into a fund to operate the joint training program. Districts such as #13 and #5 that were not participants have been paying a per firefighter cost when they attended classes organized by the training institute.

The new training organization brings in districts #13 and #5 and the Bellingham fire department and brings additional personnel and resources into the mix. “What changed the look of the program is these partners allow us to beef up the staff and curriculum,” Campbell said. “Whatever each agency has as a strength, they’ll put in.”

Under the proposed interlocal agreement, NWFRS’s contribution would be a training captain position. The position, now vacant, is part of the NWFRS staffing plan, which was approved at the November 15 meeting, and will be paid for by fire district #3. “For us it was a position we would hire anyway,” Campbell said. The training captain will develop and implement a three-year training schedule for all volunteers under FRITS and supervise training for NWFRS career firefighters.

Most other participating districts will pay membership fees to the FRITS except for district #4, which will provide offices and the primary training facility, and Bellingham fire department, who will provide training for some staff. Membership fees will pay to hire a coordinator and clerk for the program and pay stipends for instructors. Campbell said all participating districts will get better training, closer to home, for a lower cost. “The point is how can we build on our training with the funds we’ve budgeted.”
The new organization would be governed by a board made up of the fire chief of each participating agency or their representative, Campbell said, who will report back to the agency’s elected commission.

NWFRS board members approved the interlocal agreement in principle but asked for some fine tuning of the contract. “I’m a little uncomfortable with the paperwork but the concept I like,” said district 13 commissioner Butch Hinchey.

The NWFRS also approved a new training program for emergency medical service (EMS) providers – the training physician program. Mike Sullivan, an emergency physician with St. Joseph Hospital in Bellingham, would volunteer as a mentor for NWFRS first responders and emergency medical technicians (EMT), teaching them what happens to their patients beyond hospital doors. “The decisions they make and the information they gain in the field will make a difference down the line,” Sullivan said. “It can be the difference for the patient to get out of the hospital four or five days earlier.”

Emergency medical personnel who volunteer for the program will accompany Sullivan in the emergency room to learn what happens to patients after the ambulance drops them off. “How do you get from your basic EMT to a competent, caring, EMS professional?” he asked. He proposes to combine experience in the hospital with clinical review of EMS calls, so EMS providers know how their actions influence a patient’s recovery. “They’ll start gaining more information they can put to work in the field,” he said.

“Many of us provide these services but we do it without a clinical relevance, and this is an area where we need a lot of work,” Campbell said. Captain Jim Rutherford said the program would address a lack of feedback for EMS providers, who often don’t know what happens to their patients after they drop them off. Sullivan will review cases and follow up on patient progress, reporting back to the EMS provider who treated them. “This is an opportunity for them to get feedback from a source with credibility,” Rutherford said.

Sullivan will also assist in developing standards and educational programs to improve the quality of patient care by EMS providers. “The position is only as effective as the authority it’s given,” Campbell said. “They need to have some say, clinically speaking, in what we do.”

Board members and firefighters were all enthusiastic about the proposal. “I see this as a phenomenal closing of the gap between EMTs and the hospital,” said Jesse Lofquist, alternate board member from district #5.

Rutherford said he hoped the program could expand to cover the missing link – Medic One ambulances. “We have a problem because we don’t transport and there’s a block between us and the hospital – Medic One,” he said. Campbell answered that he had asked Medic One to reinstate a medical mentor program to close that gap. “If every step is not linked things fall apart, and we’re trying to put those links in,” he said.

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