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SE Thurston Fire/EMS Chief Rita Hutcheson

I asked Chief Hutcheson if she would be willing to share her public monthly NVN column with Yelm Community Blog readers, so more people would have access to this valuable information. The following is her latest report:

Fire Department News

As I was preparing to write an article for my column this month [in the NVN], I looked back on the past few weeks, noting that in spite of the severity of many of these incidents, lives were saved. That did not happen by accident. It happened because we have well trained competent fire fighters and medics responding quickly. As communities grow, the complexities and frequency of the incidents naturally move toward the necessity of a well honed 24/7 team, heading an on site department of career firefighter/EMTs. Our community is a perfect example of this evolution.

As volunteer fire departments, we did a good job. We had dedicated people contributing countless hours to maintain and improve the safety of our community. I have 25 years experience as a volunteer firefighter/EMT with Rainier with first hand knowledge of the volunteer commitment and function. I possess a keen appreciation for the knowledgeable and competent volunteers who provided for the intermittent needs of the community. There was never any lack of desire to do the right thing, to help our neighbors in their time of need. However, as our communities began to grow the number of 911 calls increased requiring more and more time from volunteers. In addition, laws were being enacted requiring more training for firefightersagain more time. With the sharply increased number of 911 calls the demand for more time from volunteers began to gradually approach a level exceeding the volunteer hours available. Fewer volunteers lived or worked close to the fire station making it more challenging to respond quickly when the fire siren sounded. It began taking a few minutes longer for volunteers to get to the fire station (if someone was available to respond). We started wearing pagers rather than listening for the fire siren but we still had to take the time to first go to the fire station to get the fire truck or aid unit.

As our departments got busier, we tried different options to ensure there were firefighters and EMTs who could respond at a moments notice. Some EMTs had aid bags in their vehicle and could respond directly to an emergency medical call and start emergency intervention before the aid unit arrived. While this saved time it wasnt always safe to go alone, often the call required more than one person to appropriately and safely manage the circumstances. For example, the motor vehicle accident involving the two teenage girls a few weeks ago required a well trained team (2 engine crews, a paramedic unit, an ambulance crew, and a command officer) to quickly and safely extricate them from the vehicle and prepare for their airlift to Harborview including additional people to set up and run the landing zone for the airlift. In the past with an all volunteer response, we would have gotten them extricated and airlifted but it would have taken much longerlonger to get personnel and equipment to the scene and then to get the job done. Not because we did not know what to do but because we had less hands-on experience using some of the equipment, such as, the Jaws of Life. Yes, we could operate them but it usually took more time because it was a skill not used often. The amount of time expended in the actual extrication and air evacuation is critical in terms of survival of the victims. The career teams today regularly function in these kinds of incidents and are constantly training together on each shift. The responses become second nature and in this case, it took only minutes to completely dismantle the vehicle, so the firefighters and medics could start treatment and get the girls to the hospital. Another example is the structure fire that sent 2 children to Harborview with smoke inhalation and burns. The parents had gotten both girls out of the home but each child required immediate intervention for their injuries and smoke exposure. The Yelm engine crew was already on another call so the Rainier engine crew responded as did the paramedic unit. The paramedics arrived moments after the girls were out of the house and began immediate treatment, while the Rainier engine arriving a couple minutes after the paramedics, extinguished the fire. The Yelm engine arrived shortly after having completed their other call, to provide further support. These little girls are alive today because of the quick action of their parents followed by rapid and competent action by the fire department and paramedics. A ten minute longer response most likely would have ended in death.

Many of the newer residents to our community have come from cities where there is a fire station within 3 or 4 minutes of every home. The response is quicker than in mostly rural communities due to the shorter distances from the fire stations. Our fire department provides emergency service within an 84 square mile area with 2 staffed fire stationsone in Yelm and one in Rainier. The needs of our community will continue to grow as more people move here. To better meet these needs, we need to plan for expansion and refinement to effectively meet these increasing demands. We must continue to hire and provide constant, recurring, expanded training for well qualified firefighters to serve this community. As more, and increasingly complex, services are regularly needed, we can no longer effectively function with a primarily local community volunteer fire department. There is still a place for volunteers; however, in a reduced prominence and they must meet the same standards as the career firefighters; they must be able to work seamlessly with the paid staff. The majority of individuals committing the time to be a volunteer firefighter do so because they want a career as a firefighter. This is an excellent way to provide volunteer service to the community, under the mentoring attentions of a career staff, while acquiring knowledge and skills which will facilitate chances for success when applying for entry into a career position.

BURN PERMITS: The Countywide burn ban has been lifted. There is no burning allowed within the Yelm or Rainier city limits or urban growth areas. Citizens living in areas allowed to burn may pick up a free burn permit at our Headquarters Station located at 709 Mill Road S. during business hours (MondayFriday, 8:00 AM5:00 PM) or you may visit our website at http://www.sethurstonfire-ems.com and use the ORCAA link to complete the burn permit online (this link is located on the left side of the Home page).

SMOKE DETECTORS: Smoke detectors save lives. When you change your clocks remember to change smoke detector batteries. If you or someone you know cannot afford a smoke detector and/or batteries, please call us at 360-458-2799. The department can provide batteries and/or smoke detectors.

Posted by Steve on November 6, 2009 at 6:18 am | Permalink

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