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Ask a Firefighter: Why do fire engines respond to medical emergencies?

GRIFFIN(A Lake Oswego firefighter answers readers’ questions on the last Thursday of each month in this space. To submit a question, call staff reporter Cliff Newell at 503-636-1281 ext. 105 or send an email to cnewell@lakeoswegoreview.com.)

Why do fire engines respond to medical emergencies?

Your Lake Oswego Fire Department responds to medical emergencies from four stations to deliver emergency medical service as quickly as possible. In many cases, we arrive at an emergency in under six minutes.

Approximately 80 percent of our calls are medical-related, and we respond in partnership with American Medical Response (AMR), an ambulance company. Lake Oswego Fire units — Engine 210 (Westlake), Truck 211 (Jean Road), Engine 212 (South Shore) and Engine 214 (Downtown) — are staffed with three-person companies, and all firefighters hired here after 1994 have an EMT paramedic certification.

AMR stages an ambulance in Lake Oswego and moves it around the area as needed. AMR units have two EMTs, at least one of whom is trained to the level of paramedic.

But firefighters have to be ready to respond to everything from a medical call to a fire or other emergency — water rescues, hazardous material spills, motor vehicle accidents, natural gas leaks and more — and a quick response is essential. If firefighters had to swap vehicles depending on the type of call, it would use up precious time.

That could allow fires to grow out of control — or in the case of a medical emergency, it could delay the kind of treatment that saves lives.

That’s why each apparatus (truck/engine) carries a full complement of Advanced Life Support equipment, including medications, trauma supplies and a heart monitor that can also deliver an electrical shock to a patient’s heart if it is in ventricular fibrillation. This is designed to “reset” the heart and restore a life-supporting rhythm.

With quality training and state-of-the-art equipment, Lake Oswego Fire has earned one of the highest save rates in the nation when it comes to treating a myocardial infarction (massive heart attack). Many patients who suffer a heart attack — we call it a Code 99 — also benefit from Hands-Only CPR administered by citizens in our community, which is why Lake Oswego Fire crews are teaching Hands-Only CPR in our schools.

— Firefighter Dick Griffin

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