North Central EMS considers Norwalk firefighters an invaluable set of helping hands with patients who need critical care.
"The two-tiered system response is a great way to maximize your resources," North Central EMS Executive Director Don Ballah said. "That concept is not new by any means."
Norwalk Fire Chief Doug Coletta has gotten positive feedback.
"What I get from EMTs on the street is they like our help," he said. "When you're dealing with a critically ill patient, a few more hands help."
Like Ballah and Coletta, firefighter John Soisson believes having paramedics and firefighters respond to the same scene means there is better patient care.
"I think the focus is not on the agency and we work very well together but the focus is on the (patient)," Soisson said. "We have a base of medical knowledge, so we can help them."
The fire department has been coordinating calls officially with North Central since March 2006. As a result, the agency saw a spike in the number of total incidents last year, 945 compared to 598 in 2005, according to the department's annual report, which was released this week.
Responding to rescue and emergency medical service incidents accounted for about 56 percent of firefighters' calls in 2006.
That trend appears to remain the same this year. In January and February, more than half of the department's 157 total calls were to assist North Central.
The Norwalk Police Department dispatches firefighters for the following conditions: chest pains, difficulty breathing, seizures, cardiac arrest, choking, possible strokes and "multiple traumas."
Firefighters also assist North Central with lifting large patients or moving people when it requires using stairs.
"Of course we have been responding with them for motor vehicle crashes for quite some time," Coletta said.
Sometimes firefighters will drive the ambulance to Fisher-Titus Medical Center if the two paramedics need to take care of a patient in the back of the squad.
If firefighters respond first, they provide preliminary patient care and get the person stabilized. When paramedics arrive, they assume patient care and do specialty medical work and advanced life support.
"First responders fill the gap between first-aid providers and basic EMTs," Ballah said.
"We felt if we responded with the first ambulance," Coletta said, "the second ambulance could be in service for another call."
North Central employees 150 people in 11 stations. In Huron County, they cover Norwalk, Bronson, Greenwich, Hartland, Peru and Ripley townships. North Central also has contracts with the following cities and villages: Norwalk, Greenwich, Monroeville, as well as Bellevue and its surrounding townships.
Ballah points out that North Central has been assisting Norwalk firefighters since the agency was founded in April 1986. The formal talks of what he calls "an orchestrated effort" began in early 2006 during a monthly safety meeting involving Ballah, retired fire chief Robert Bores, Norwalk Safety-Service Director Dale Sheppard, North Central Operations Manager Rick Shields and Norwalk Police Chief Kevin Cashen.
"It was suggested that the services had the ability to work hand in hand with each other on 9-1-1 EMS and fire calls. Both services had worked together on many drills and mock exercises and it was decided that they should collaborate their skills to serve and protect the citizens of Norwalk," Ballah explained.
"It was their wish to get involved and we certainly welcome the help. It's been a good relationship."
At first, Ballah said there was some confusion about what each agency's responsibilities were, but that got ironed out once the departments established protocol.
"So far, everyone has worked well together," he added.
"I will say North Central has been excellent to work with," he said. "My personal opinion of what we're doing here is working very well."
Soisson noted that the fire department and North Central "are not inventing anything new," because there are similar situations throughout the United States.
"It doesn't matter whose name is on the door. The focus is on the customer," the firefighter said.