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Plan is Potential Life-saver; Cleveland tries out Fire

CLEVELAND -- Hundreds of lives could be saved in Cleveland each year if the Fire Department expands a trial program to save critically ill patients, city officials say.

Six weeks ago, the Fire Department assigned an advanced paramedic/firefighter to Engine 36 in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood at East 131st Street and Bartlett Avenue. The area has a high volume of serious medical calls.

Engine 36 now has the capability to administer advanced life support to sick or injured patients, including starting intravenous fluids, opening airways and dispensing life-saving drugs.

The pumper truck's response time is usually less than four minutes - a vital time for heart-attack patients, officials say. The truck will not transport patients to the hospital; instead, the paramedic will administer care and the patient will be taken to the hospital by the Emergency Medical Service.

All firetrucks answer medical-emergency calls and each firefighter can administer basic first-aid, including CPR, but have to wait for EMS for life-saving measures.

The goal of the six-month trial program is to save lives. City officials are pleased so far with the results.

"The initial feedback is encouraging," Safety Director Martin Flask said. "It's an opportunity for us to expand first-responder care."

The Columbus Fire Department has paramedics assigned to each of its 34 pumpers. Half of Cincinnati's 27 pumpers have paramedics. A paramedic certification requires more than 2,000 hours of medical training, while a firefighter requires about 120 hours.

Cleveland Councilman Kevin Conwell, who chairs City Council's Public Safety Committee, supports expanding the program citywide to combat fatal heart attacks. The city had 200 last year.

"The whole focus needs to be on saving lives," he said.

Engine 36 responded to 157 medical runs in the first four weeks and beat EMS to the scene 84 times. The unit assisted or started advanced care on 66 of those patients.

Lt. Ken Latkovic, a paramedic/firefighter who volunteered for the program, said the unit saved two lives, including a 103-year-old woman who needed resuscitation.

EMSoperates between 16 and 22 ambulances each day and has a response time of about seven minutes and 20 seconds.

The Fire Department operates four rescue squads.

Historically, there has been a rivalry between the department and EMS, with occasional talk of merging the two services.

Some EMS employees may feel threatened by the program, Flask said, but it's not an attempt to undermine their work.

In fact, EMS Commissioner Ed Eckart recommended the city implement the program, along with Fire Chief Paul Stubbs. Stubbs and Eckart each said they would like to see the program expanded after six months.

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