RINGGOLD, Ga. - Firefighters are no longer just the guys on trucks who man hoses and pull injured people from burning buildings. Now their job may demand that they know how to treat those injured people.
"You really don't know what you're getting into until you get (on scene)," said firefighter Kevin Desena with Catoosa County Fire & Rescue. Mr. Desena is one of 29 firefighters going through emergency medical technician training with the fire department. The training began in late November and, if students finish the course in May, they'll be nationally recognized EMTs, one step down from paramedics.
Such medical skills are crucial in today's emergency response community, said Catoosa Fire Chief Chuck Nichols. "Last month, we had 94 emergency medical calls," Chief Nichols said. He estimated that about 50 percent of all calls to the fire service are medical-related, compared to 70 percent for fire services nationwide.
Currently, Catoosa fire has 106 firefighters, 23 of which are either EMTs or paramedics. If the entire class passes the training, it would double the fire department's trained EMTs. The goal, Chief Nichols said, is to have either a paramedic or EMT on duty for every shift of the 24-hour work schedule. Firefighters had to volunteer for the 240-hour training course, which is held four times a week with two sessions required for the class.
In February, firefighters will spends Saturdays in hands-on skills training, the chief said. Firefighter Drew Hood said medical skills are needed not just for assisting victims on a scene, but also for helping fellow firefighters if needed. "We deal with a lot of medical calls in this business, more and more every day," Mr. Hood said.
Five EMT instructors volunteered to teach the firefighters and the classes are taken at no charge, the chief said. The fire department covers costs of about $125 per student for books and copying, but the firefighter must pay the $100 examination fee at the end of the course to test for certification.