Along with excelling at extinguishing blazes and protecting houses and other property, Mount Airy Fire Department members are proving themselves quite capable of another important task: saving lives.
Some local citizens might be unaware that city firefighters’ duties also now include answering medical calls, serving as first-responders for a wide range of potentially life-threatening emergencies to render assistance in support of Surry EMS paramedics.
In 2015, their collective efforts with life-and-death situations resulted in a dozen different success stories.
“Twelve people are still alive,” Jose Butron, basic life support coordinator for the Surry County EMS, summed up when the firefighters’ lifesaving contributions were recognized during a Mount Airy Board of Commissioners meeting recently.
“Unfortunately, not every life-and-death situation has a happy ending,” Butron said.
Nearly 20 fire department members were part of the annual recognition program last week, all of whom played some role in keeping those 12 individuals alive.
Fire Chief Zane Poindexter, who was one of those named, used an auto racing scenario to provide an understanding of how the team process works.
“We utilize a ‘pit crew’ type of approach to CPR and other types of life-threatening calls,” he explained. “There is so much work to do to get these individuals saved that it takes several people.”
Some of the firefighters recognized were directly responsible for saving a life, while others received commendations for playing key support roles.
“Those personnel assist the crews in some form or another to help a scene go better to accomplish a save,” Poindexter described regarding the latter.
“They actually didn’t do compressions or breathe for a patient, but they did supply the equipment to the medics on scene, drive the ambulance into the hospital on a critical call (or) assisted in preparing IVs in the back of the ambulance,” the fire chief said of some of the actions involved.
Eight firefighters were recognized for their work in saving two or more lives, according to a breakdown at the meeting.
In order to qualify as a “save,” each case is carefully evaluated by a county audit committee to gauge the difference that first-response efforts made in the outcome of an emergency, Butron has said. This ensures that every one is dutifully earned.
Restoring a pulse to a patient or having one breathing on his or her own by the time that person reaches the hospital are among the qualifying criteria.
City officials thankful
The Mount Airy Fire Department instituted its expanded medical-response program in December 2010; previously firefighters’ responses had been limited to cardiac-related emergencies and motor vehicle accidents.
Since late 2010, between 70 and 75 lives have been saved because of the program, according to Poindexter.
The city commissioners expressed their appreciation for the firefighters’ medical-response efforts and how Mount Airy is a safer place as a result.
One member of the city administrative staff also jokingly said at the meeting that if she ever keels over, she hopes this occurs in the city limits due to the extra emergency response available.
Commissioner Jon Cawley recalled how the expanded medical-response program met with some opposition at first. It was projected to add less than $1,200 in annual operating costs to the fire department, including the expense of extra fuel for vehicles used in running calls.
There was some concern that the cost might escalate over time.
Cawley indicated that this hasn’t occurred, and the additional annual expense might even be under the $1,200 range due to fuel prices now being much cheaper than they have been over the past several years.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.