How did it happen?

You cannot ride by many fire stations in Chesterfield County that you will not see an ambulance sitting in one of its bays. You may take this for granted, but I thought that I would share how this happens. For many years, the Chesterfield Fire Department operated separately from the four volunteer rescue squads in the county, as is the case for many localities today. A change occurred in the late ‘70s, when a visionary fire chief, Bob Eanes, saw something that would lead to a paradigm shift in the department’s focus. In order for the fire service to truly meet the needs of the citizens of Chesterfield County, all firefighters needed to be trained to the level of EMTs, or Emergency Medical Technicians. A portion of the apparatus equipment cache would now be medical equipment, and fire units would start going to close proximity medical calls.

This would be the new norm for the Chesterfield Fire Department, salaried fire units responding to medical incidents, for the purpose of patient stabilization, until the volunteer ambulance arrived. This created a strained relationship between the fire service in Chesterfield and the volunteer rescue squads that continued to exist throughout my career. This same relationship continues in many departments that have recently hired salaried firefighters, in jurisdictions that have been all volunteer since their beginning.

Territorialism has plagued the fire service from the beginning. Our pride has always gotten in the way of the needs of the citizens.

Moving on through this progression, in the late ‘80s, Chesterfield Fire Department hired its first Medical Director from outside the department. The Medical Director would be tasked with training, mobilization and policy development. Our department was now providing paramedics to Medflight. Our department would name its first Operational Medical Director, which was required for cardiac technicians and paramedics to provide care. It was during this time that our department would offer cardiac technician training to firefighters, of which I attended the first class. It had become common practice for firefighters to be dropped off of fire units to ride ambulances with volunteer crews. In fact, in Matoaca, when Ettrick-Matoaca Rescue only had a driver, they would come to Station 8 and pick up a firefighter, when a call for service was received.

I am not sure of the exact date, but the volunteer fire company at Station 11 purchased the first fire department ambulance. Firefighters were now providing staffing for some volunteer ambulances during the day, and fire units had ALS (advanced life support) providers on them. What had started in the ‘70s as a small amount of EMS equipment was now BLS and ALS equipment. The four volunteer ambulances provided most of the transport of patients, even though call load was beginning to tax this system heavily. It was determined that two periods of time constituted the highest call load, 6-8 AM and 4-6 PM. This would be the catalyst for the daytime staffing of volunteer ambulances to be from 6 AM-6 PM.

Chesterfield Fire Department would change its name to Chesterfield Fire & EMS. The call load for most stations is 7-8 out of every 10 calls are medicals. The 21st century would see the department hire its first Operational Medical Director. Chesterfield Fire & EMS has become a trendsetter for our nation, in areas such as patient care and training. I do not know if Bob Eanes knew where things would be in 2012, but I am certain that the citizens of Chesterfield benefit from his vision, every time that an ambulance pulls up in front of your home. Chesterfield still has five entities that make up EMS- Chesterfield Fire & EMS, Bensley Bermuda Rescue Squad, Ettrick-Matoaca Rescue Squad, Forest View Rescue Squad and Manchester Rescue Squad, the working relationship between these entities has become an example for departments everywhere.           

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