AMBULANCES & FIRE TRUCK RESPONSES: Why do fire trucks respond to medical emergencies?

Friday, June 26th, 2020

First, a history lesson. Remember, the fire service has been established for hundreds of years when compared to the modern healthcare system. In our local community, the Fire Department pre-dates EMS (the volunteer FD was one of the first community services established in the Pflugerville area).  In the olden days, everything was highly flammable, and fire was the primary heat and light source. Fires were quite common, and Pflugervilles’s history has its share of notorious and destructive fires.  A large portion of downtown burned down, and before that a large hotel burned down.  In response to these and other fire incidents, early community leaders organized local resources and developed what would become known today at Travis County ESD No.2, the Pflugerville Fire Department.

But times have certainly changed. While structure fires still occur on a regular basis in the growing community, the size and intensity of these fires is able to be controlled by the District having multiple fire stations and personnel who can respond to them in a timely manner and control them quickly.  What used to burn a block down, can be contained to a kitchen with quick notification.  Additionally, establishment of a local fire code has made commercial buildings much safer and less prone to fires when compared to the past.  Just like the FD was born out of an early community need, we now respond to a new essential need- medical services calls. In fact, approximately 70% of the 911 calls we receive are for medical services. Because of this, all firefighters in the District are EMTs (Emergency Medical Technicians), many of our firefighters are paramedics.  This all led to the District offering full emergency medical services including ambulance transport.

Performing basic and advanced life saving work takes multiple hands, or highly trained personnel to deliver those skills.  Some of these skills include advanced airway procedures, establishing IVs (intravenous)  to deliver medications, as well as operating sophisticated defibrillator/monitoring equipment to help shock a patient’s heart if they are in cardiac arrest.  Performing effective chest compressions in the event of a cardiac arrest patient requires a high level of fitness and several responders to rotate in and out to maintain the consistent manual pumping of a patient’s chest to mirror its normal function.  Try pushing down on a firm cushion yourself at a pace of 100 compressions per minute for 5 minutes (if you are fit enough to exercise).  You will see it’s quite a workout. Now imagine doing this for 20-30 minutes.  Additionally, many of our patients are so sick they are unable to move on their own. Often, we have to physically pick and move these patients onto the stretcher.  All of this takes the work of several firefighter emt/paramedics. If you have been treated in an emergency room for a serious injury or medical condition, you were cared for by several techs, nurses, physician’s assistants, and physicians. When you call 911 fire and EMS personnel are bringing many of those same skills and procedures to your living room.

Lastly, many times responders face unique challenges on medical calls.   For example, think about the car crash that needs victims extricated using (the Jaws of Life) tools. Or, a medical call in a home that has carbon monoxide poisoning and requires respirator protection to enter. Think about patients who are incapacitated and can not open a locked door into the building. In these situations, firefighters provide an additional necessary skill set. And if the firefighters are not necessary, they are cleared quickly so they are available to respond to another medical call or fire.

So while it may seem strange to have a fire truck pull up outside your home when you’ve called 911 because of an emergency medical situation, there are many reasons to be thankful firefighters have arrived to begin quickly helping you or your loved one.  The District exists solely to help you in your time of need, your worst time of need.  That’s why we send you the best resources to increase the chances of a successful outcome.