Fire Dept responds to medical calls

I think it’s very common now for the FD to respond to medical calls along with the rescue squad. Is this true pretty much everywhere now? Obviously if they are busy with a fire or rescue they don’t respond. A few weeks ago I called 911 and the FD showed up not long before the paramedics.

We respond to echo calls, which are cardiac arrests. The idea is to get someone there ASAP to start CPR till the EMS arrives and it doesn’t matter who, so we (fire) get the call to respond.

Other then that we would only be called on the request of EMS, such situations most of the time are lift assist, where the patient is too large for them to safely move, but some other reasons exist I’m sure.

I haven’t heard this specifically - but if paramedics are stationed at the fire house, I could see them arriving in a FD vehicle.

We had sort of the opposite happen recently. Our furnace blower shorted out or something (I vented about it in another thread), and the melting wiring caused a haze of smoke in the furnace room. Not being complete morons, we decided this might indicate a call to 911.

FIVE fire trucks responded, from what I heard - I was on the cul de sac in front of our house so I only saw three, but I was later told there were 2 more on the street behind, as well as an ambulance - which I only knew when a couple of people came around the corner wheeling a gurney in case it was needed. The fire chief showed up, as well.

I have to wonder what our housemate (who made the actual call) SAID on the phone. I know she told them we were all getting out safely. Maybe it was just a slow day and they were bored.

When I had to call for medical aid a few months ago, a fire department ambulance was what showed up and hauled me to ER (it was a TIA).

In my town, a hook-and-ladder truck will usually arrive long before an ambulance. The fire department is a government agency, while the ambulance services are private companies. I suspect they try to use the free stuff first, and only call the fee-for-service stuff if they determine that you need to be transported to a hospital.

An ambulance and a fire engine show up in my neck of the woods. I’ve seen them spend time at a neighbor’s house, eventually wheeling someone out and into an ambulance. I wonder every time: “What’s with the fire engine”
(I have family who retired out of the fire department, so I guess I coud ask why.)

I live in a small town, a village really, and there is a combination of volunteer fire brigade plus some paid firefighters and paid EMTs, all at the same station. So if you call 911 for medical help, if the local EMTs are there, and they are closest, they will send them along with fire brigade members for support.

Around here, the fire department always responds to medical calls, which especially pissed me off to no end when my elderly mother was living with us and sometimes had to be taken to hospital. I tried to avoid it by calling ambulance dispatch services directly and got shit for it, and told to go via 911.

I have been told – and this is only passing on second-hand info – that around here, anyway, one of the compelling reasons for that is the firemen’s union, whereby all these dispatches give them an excuse to log active-duty calls rather than just sitting around. At no time – at no time – has the intrusion of the fire service ever been of any use whatsoever. On the contrary, while EMTs were invariably professional and helpful, the fire personnel were often snooping around and asking stupid and judgmental questions while the EMTs were actually attending to the patient. I think if I ever have to call on another medical emergency I’ll be tempted to bar the fuckers from entering my house.

Where I’m from, the paramedics work for the fire department. The private ambulances provide little more than transportation services. They might be called by the paramedics, but mostly they just transport old/sick people or work concerts, sports, special events, etc. to be on standby for transport and/or provide very basic care (first aid). The fire department and the private ambulances are analogous to the police department and security guards.

You need to qualify that by what jurisdiction you’re talking about. Here (Canada generally, and Ontario specifically) I totally stand by what I said. I see no reason whatsoever for the fire service to show up on medical calls, and many reasons for them NOT to. The protocols we have seem entirely bureaucratically motivated and counterproductive. I acknowledge that things may be different elsewhere.

Florida, USA. Generally, the EMT-Paramedics work for the fire department and have large boxy ambulances. The EMT-Basics work for private ambulance companies that have mostly conversion van style ambulances. That’s how it always was growing up. Seemed pretty normal. I thought it was like that everywhere. If someone calls 911, either the cops or the fire department (or both) are going to respond. If someone just needs a routine ambulance ride, they can prearrange that kind of service. If it’s unexpected, though, it’s 911 and it’s the fire department. The fire department might anticipate the call to not be serious and will send a private ambulance as well. Once the Paramedics check you out, they just hand you over to the EMTs to drive you to the hospital.

Having been a firefighter who responded to more than my fair share of EMS runs, and later a chief who had to defend such operational models, I can most assuredly say that there are very, very good reasons for the fire service being there. First and foremost, have you ever carried an adult human out of a house or apartment building? Two EMTs (basic, advanced, paramedic, the level doesn’t mean anything) carrying person after person 10 more times a day leads to career ending injuries in short order. A lot of the assistance we gave was just in carrying or moving patients. It is a legitimate and neccessary thing.

Second, when the incident goes sideways, having two or three more sets of hands - usually well-trained hands, at that - can literally be a lifesaver. Cardiac arrests are obviously the biggest manpower need, but plenty of diabetic issues, drug overdoses, GI bleeds, child birth, or any substantial trauma requires more than two providers. As soon as you’re into advanced life support measures, you need three people. I have never seen an ambulance staffed with three people unless they’re training someone. The firefighters add those extra hands.

The public and politicians who do not regularly see what it is that emergency services do day in and day out tend to view those services through a lens of efficiency. Emergency services cannot be dialed back to “efficient.” They are not a production model, they are a response model. You have a single chance to get it right, and a very limited amount of time to do it. You have to show up with the right amounts of trained people and the right equipment every single time. You can’t say “oh, sorry, the widget we need is back at the station, we’ll be back soon.” Why bring a 52,000 pound truck with 750 gallons of water, getting 6 miles per gallon of diesel, to every call - including the old lady with a headache? Because that’s the toolbox with every tool you need, regardless of what the incident brings (and if her headache is due to carbon monoxide poisoning, now what? The fire engine has the stuff to detect that and safely work in that environment).

If there are issues with firefighters wandering or poor training, then there’s a management problem. The operational model is more than sound - its a necessity.

I was until recently the president of my condo association. 150+ units and 250+ people in two 8-story buildings.

When we had a fire alarm go off (99% false alarms) we got a ladder truck, a pumper truck, and an EMS wagon with paramedics and transport capability. Every time, no questions asked, and no ability to stop them from showing up & evaluating everything. Why? So nobody gets hurt.

One time it was a real, albeit minor, kitchen fire. I learned later that the first FD vehicle on scene had called for another station-load of people & vehicles and a Chief before they’d even arrived because they saw the faint trail of rising smoke. If it’s a no-shiiter you can’t have too many people or too much apparatus on scene too soon. It was quite a show before it was over.

For a purely EMS call they’d send the EMS wagon and usually a pumper truck. Once in awhile it’d be the EMS wagon alone, but that was only for cases where they’d been there before and had some idea of what to expect.

For a sense of scale we’d have EMS on property about once a week and a fire alarm event about once every 6 weeks. I got to interface with these folks a lot of times.

It’s nice to watch your tax dollars at work doing something tangibly beneficial.

Thanks @KCB615 and all your kind.

Point taken – I have more to say below.

I greatly value your opinion, as always, @LSLGuy, and broadly speaking, I agree.

Now on to a couple of specific instances that prompted my original comments.

First and foremost, I think we all justifiably respect our firefighters, and there has perhaps been no finer example of their selfless bravery than the events of 9/11. This is not about that. It’s about the presumed necessity of having them show up on every emergency call for EMS, even when the caller is very explicit about the reason for the call and begs to have an ambulance but not the freaking fire trucks. @KCB615 has provided some of the reasons why they do this, but does this justify why it should be automatic in all circumstances even when well explained to the 911 dispatcher?

Here are a couple of examples of things that really put me off the fire service showing up.

My late mother suffered from congestive heart failure in her last years. During one of her hospitalizations, my older brother and I had absolutely the worst (and only) fight we’ve ever had, over our mother’s future. He felt that she should go to a nursing home. I felt that she was happy living with me, in a comfortable house with flower gardens that she cared for and many amenities she could enjoy, and would be devastated by being institutionalized. Thanks to our wonderful health care system, she was getting excellent medical support at home, including regular nursing care, personal care services, and even a constant supply of fixed and mobile oxygen equipment – all based on professional assessments of her needs. As things turned out, ultimately my brother acknowledged I had been right.

On one occasion she had a cardiac emergency and I called 911. EMS arrived within minutes and attended to her. A huge fire truck also arrived. While the EMTs were attending to her, the firefighter guy took it upon himself to lecture me on letting her live in “unsafe conditions” and tell me that she really should be in an institution. Right. Doctors, nurses, and home care services management determine that she’s fine and happy where she is, but a fireman is going to dictate what’s best for her.

My other example is a different kind of emergency. Details aren’t necessary – suffice to say it was a medical emergency (not involving me), EMS showed up, and of course fire services. As always, EMS attended to the patient. Meanwhile I happened to notice the firefighter guy clomping around my kitchen in his firefighter boots, checking things out. The call had nothing whatsoever to do with drugs or medications, but the fireman guy clomped over to me and asked me what “all those pill bottles” in the kitchen were for.

I later thought of a few responses I could have given him:

  1. Which ones? The green bottles are illicit Oxycontin to feed my opiate habit. The blue ones contain heroin.

  2. Isn’t there a fire somewhere you should be fighting?

  3. Fuck off and do something useful.

ETA: The pill bottles were from my various cardiac medications. I tend not to throw them out thinking they might be useful containers for things, as they often are.

FWIW, in France and I believe some other European countries, ambulances (for medical emergency purposes) and fire services are in the same organisation, though I have no idea how they decide which set of equipment and hunan skills gets sent out to any particular call.

In the UK, if you call 999 you’re asked which service you want in the first instance.

The first incident was inappropriate. The second has to do with gathering all the information. If those were her pills, or even if she just took some accidently, it’s important to know what they are, to pass along to the hospital.

I was in an auto accident in Michigan, two cars at an intersection, pedestrians probably called 911. Fire truck arrived before ambulance, neither had to do anything but they couldn’t have known that beforehand. They left it up to me to call a tow service to pull my car from the intersection.

I live in Illinois and have noted that ambulance and fire always respond to calls, at least as far as I am aware. My experience is normally seeing both arrive at some neighbors house with eventually someone wheeled out to the ambulance.

Only active involvement I’ve been in on was when my wife received a phone call from her mom, advising death of her aged dad, long ill and not wakening that morning. She called 911 to advise of the death and by the time we drove 3 miles to grandpa’s house, there was an ambulance, fire truck, and three police cars. Yikes.

In my city (12k people…well, our department contracts out to 2 neighboring townships so it’s more like 30k people) all of our firefighters are EMS. That’s how we hire, because it was too tricky to schedule around who was what.

So if you call for a medical emergency you’ll definitely get an ambulance but you might also get a fire truck because, like @KCB615 says there will quite possibly be more HANDS needed but not more AMBULANCES needed. The other EMTs are also people who drive fire trucks so they will happen to arrive in a fire truck. Around here, a fire truck is less likely to be needed at any given moment than an ambulance will.

And why not just pile into an SUV instead of taking a fire truck? Well it would be a right shame for the extra EMTs to get a fire call and have to pile into the SUV to get back to the station and then out to their call. If they come to a medical call in a fire truck then they can get to the next emergency more quickly.

And, also, we’ll usually send someone in a SUV and a cop. Source: I live at the entrance of a small neighborhood with a high percentage of very old people. Sadly, I see the brigade every week :frowning: Also, I’m on council so I get to learn the nitty-gritty. And approve paying for it!

A friend who called 911 for a woman with signs of stroke in a grocery store told me with some disgust that while EMTs were quietly assessing the woman and preparing for transport, a fire truck pulled up, and several firefighters barged in, to stand around without any apparent function. “Why did they do that?” she asked.

I told her they did it so that, come budget time, they could tell the City Council that they assisted EMS 400 times in the previous year. A cynical answer, but not wholly untrue.

Over the decades, firefighters have worked hard and successfully to put themselves out of a job. From building codes, to smoke alarms and public education programs, they have drastically reduced the number of times they are called on to squirt water on burning homes.

If they don’t branch out, how do they convince mayors or county assemblies to fund multi-million dollar vehicles that only get used a few times a year? Why pay staff that may not even leave the station on a given day?

Then, when enough cuts have been made, and the department is downsized, where are we when there IS a large and dangerous fire?

And yes, there is also a lot of truth in what KCB615 wrote. I have been on many an emergency scene where I was glad for the extra hands that the F.D. provided, whether for taking turns doing CPR, carrying a heavy patient over an awkward route, or holding down a Naloxone recipient who turned into a foot-and-fist whirlwind.

These occasions are not entirely unpredictable, so that scientifically written dispatch protocols can nearly always determine whether Fire assistance is warranted. But in the absence of such protocols, I would always rather err on the side of more resources. Safer for the patient, and safer for me.

(Summary of a long, rambling post: Fire Department assistance at EMS scenes is overused, only partly because it’s in the best interest of the F.D. It’s also erring on the side of caution - dispatching as many resources as might be needed for a safe, effective response.)

The circumstances suggest otherwise. This guy was the sort of character I’ve heard referred to as a “snoopopath”. Since the paramedics were dealing with the medical situation, the fireman had nothing to do and busied himself snooping around. He had no interest in whose medications they were or what they were; what seemed to pique his snoopopathic interest was (as he put it in his accusatory question) why there were “so many” pill bottles.

Furthermore, besides his lack of interest in what the medications were, he would be in no position to pass anything along to the hospital since it was the paramedics who were heading back to the hospital; Mr. Fireman was going back to the fire station.

I understand that there are several valid reasons for dispatching fire services along with an ambulance. I also believe that the fire service has a vested interest in doing so. It’s debatable which of these motivators is dominant. I’m sorry to say that my anecdotal experience with fire services when summoning an ambulance has not been good, while my experience with paramedics has been uniformly excellent. But, as the saying goes, anecdotes are not data. Also, it appears that the roles and capabilities of fire services vary from one jurisdiction to another.