Caption: Joshua Dauphin, chief of the West Weathersfield Fire Department, discusses the importance of having a full-time chief with EMT-certification in town, which would enable residents to see a trained first responder to a medical emergency before an ambulance arrives from out-of-town.
WEATHERSFIELD, Vt. -- The Weathersfield Selectboard still has not discussed a clear direction for its town fire services, despite requests from the town’s two volunteer departments for guidance. But at last week’s board meeting, the selectboard took a positive step in that direction when discussing specific issues concerning an essential, often overlooked role of modern fire departments: emergency-medical services (EMS).
“The whole discussion was trying to figure out what types of services that the selectboard wants the town fire departments to provide,” Morris said in a phone interview yesterday.
Medical emergencies constitute over half of fire department responses. According to the town report for 2017-2018, of the 186 calls that the West Weathersfield Volunteer Fire Department received that year, 69 of those were medical emergencies and 49 were vehicular accidents or car fires.
“People just have a vision of firefighting as a house or car fire,” West Weathersfield firefighter Ray Stapleton told the board. “There are so many different levels of service.”
These services can include HAZMAT, high-angle rescue, ice-water rescue, or wilderness rescue, among others.
The training regiments and types of equipment vary greatly in cost and commitment between types and levels, Morris said. Because these trainings can be demanding for volunteers with time constraints, and many rescue services require expensive equipment that has limited uses beyond their purpose, Morris said that not every town needs to specialize in all types of emergency-rescue.
Departments from multiple towns can partner, for example, whereby one department specializes in ice-water rescue, another in HAZMATS and Weathersfield in high-angle rescue. This ensures that all communities will provide mutual aid across the range of emergency services.
At last week’s meeting Dauphin suggested that instead of Weathersfield training all volunteers in one area of specialization, individual members could select training in specializations that interest them. These individuals could then lend their expertise and training to teams in other municipalities, as part of mutual aid.
Need for EMT-certified volunteers
Dauphin said last week that the lack of available daytime volunteers with EMT-certification causes problems for the departments, particularly in the westernmost reaches of town where it takes considerably longer for ambulances to arrive.
Each department has at least one or two volunteers with EMT-certification, but they often work professionally as EMTs during the daytime and not always available to the departments.
This becomes problematic in areas like Perkinsville, where it can sometimes take between 22 to 35 minutes for an ambulance from Golden Cross in Claremont, New Hampshire, to arrive.
Dauphin suggested that the selectboard about exploring partnership with Springfield to provide ambulatory services for that side of town.
Dauphin also remains a strong proponent for the proposed full-time fire chief, which voters rejected the funding in March.
This full-time chief would have been EMT-certified, allowing him or her to arrive on scene from anywhere in town within five to eight minutes, faster than any ambulance.
Weathersfield firefighters sometimes face a dilemma when responding to medical emergencies without an available EMT-certified volunteer. Stapleton said that when they arrive before the ambulance, their non-certified volunteers can do little beyond provide reassurance, which sometimes dissatisfies the family members. If departments delayed their arrival until the ambulance arrived, the person needing help could potentially wait for half an hour before any first responder arrives.
“If we stopped going to those calls and people had to wait for Golden Cross, there will be a lot of people [at this meeting] to complain about the time they had to wait,” Dauphin said.
Dauphin told the board that he believes it's better for volunteer firefighters to respond even if all they can do is provide comfort. Having a full-time person with EMT-certification would not only circumvent those situations but alleviate the current volunteer burnout, in which a limited number of EMT-certified volunteers have to respond to the large volume of medical calls.
Morris said that this need for EMT-certified volunteers is a nationwide problem.
“I still stand by what I recommended in my [fire department] report,” Morris said. Morris recommended in his report that the town merge the two volunteer fire departments into a single municipal department and hire a full-time fire chief, with EMT-certification, to oversee both stations.
“It’s not just about keeping and maintaining good volunteers, but ensuring that we will still have them in the future,” Morris said.