Written by Don Ratzlaff Tuesday, 15 June 2010 16:00
The Hillsboro Fire Department is hoping to lead the way into a cooperative arrangement that will improve response time for primary rescue services in Marion County.
The plan, being developed in partnership with Marion County Emergency Medical Services, would authorize the fire departments from Hillsboro, Marion, Peabody and Florence to respond to rescue calls outside of their designated fire-protection areas.
Currently, each department functions as a “first responder” to rescue calls within their designated areas. The Marion Fire Department provides the only “primary responder” team in the entire county.
“With what we’re trying to do, there’s going to be four potential primary rescue units (in the county),” Hillsboro Fire Chief Ben Steketee said. “We’ll kind of divide the county up so we can provide better patient care.”
Each of the four local departments will need authorization from their respective city council to participate in the new arrangement.
Steketee was planning to bring that request to the Hillsboro City Council at its June 15 meeting.
Historically, Marion County EMS has taken care of rescue calls in the county. Under the new plan, EMS would still administer the program, but responsibility and personnel for primary-response units would be delegated to the four local departments.
The $26,000 designated annually for rescue response in the EMS budget has been used to compensate on-call responders. Under the new plan, the money would be used to help provide training and equipment for the local fire departments.
City governments, meanwhile, would be responsible to repair and replace their respective rescue trucks, and may need to chip in for additional rescue equipment.
“Hillsboro Fire does have the equipment to be a primary responder,” Steketee said. “Obviously, there’s going to have to be more purchases made in the future for rope rescues and water rescues and (situations) like that.
“As far as vehicle extrication and some minor rope rescues, we’re ready.”
Extrication is most common
In 2009, the county responded 18 rescue calls, according to Steketee; historically, it averages two per month. Fourteen calls have been received so far in 2010.
“The lion’s share of those calls are vehicle extrication—someone gets in a car wreck and they’re entangled or trapped in the vehicle and need to be extricated,” Steketee said.
HFD responded to 14 rescue calls last year, Steketee said, five of which required extrication.
Other types of rescue situation could include farm rescue, high-angle rope rescue and water rescues.
Each department would be equipped for vehicle extrications, Steketee said, and would specialize in only one of the additional rescue situations to save money on equipment.
Hillsboro likely would specialize in rope rescue, he added.
The fire-protection area for the Hillsboro department includes 119 square miles. As currently mapped, Hillsboro would provide primary rescue coverage to an additional 234 square miles in the northwest third of the county, Steketee said.
Authorizing local fire departments to serve as a primary responder teams may result in some cost increases for city governments, Steketee said.
“That would be related to the truck, mainly,” he said. “We’d probably need $10,000 of rope-rescue equipment.
At the same time, local fire departments would receive a higher reimbursement for rescue runs through the EMS agreement than it receives under the current system.
Steketee said when the Hillsboro Fire Department responds to a call outside the city limit, the department is reimbursed $200 by the appropriate rural township board. When the party involved in the emergency lives outside the tax base of the township board, that person is billed directly.
Under the EMS arrangement, the local department would be reimbursed $350, regardless where the victim lives.
Steketee said the 21 volunteers in his department are unanimously in favor of taking on the additional responsibilities, and all have participated in training classes to prepare themselves for the task.
Steketee said the move is all about improving patient care in an expanded area of the county.
“Actually, it’s not going to change a lot within our fire-protection area because we respond first to emergencies there anyway,” Steketee said. “But if you take it to that greater area, then patient care is going to be enhanced. Otherwise, (patients are) going to have to wait for Marion Rescue to come.
“We are going to improve patient care by splitting it in four ways so there will be a primary responder on the scene sooner,” he said. “It takes about 10 minutes for Marion Rescue to get to Hillsboro. We can get there about 10 minutes faster.”