AUGUSTA - If you have a medical emergency anywhere in the city, paramedics will get there by ambulance or firetruck within about five minutes.
In order to survive a cardiac arrest and be discharged from the hospital to home, however, treatment has to start sooner.
So the Augusta Fire Department and its medical director are pushing to get as many automated external defibrillators in the city as possible and to have lay people start cardiopulmonary resuscitation as soon as possible under the direction of emergency medical services dispatchers.
All of these efforts, Augusta Fire Chief Roger Audette said, "increase the chances people's lives are going to be saved and help make this a better community to live in."
Audette, emergency medical services director Dr. Timothy Pieh and Batalion Chief John Bennett highlighted those efforts Sunday at Hartford Fire Station as they previewed a series of events to celebrate EMS Week, starting May 18. The event is being promoted by the American College of Emergency Physicians.
National EMS Week 2013, American College of Emergency Physicians
Audette provided the history of the municipal department, which started two ambulances responding to a total of 700 calls in 1975 to five ambulances answering almost 5,000 emergency medical services calls in the city and parts of two neighboring communities. According to a state-wide reporting system, EMS State Bridge, a total of 100,000 runs are made a year by emergency medical services responders.
Many of the calls for Augusta firefighters and rescue personnel occur during weekdays, when the capital city's population can swell to as many as 50,000.
"Those ambulances are mobile emergency rooms," Pieh said. He serves also as a regional medical director for one of the six regions in the state, and said he is working with Augusta "to figure out best practices so we can model it to everybody."
The approach is like that of a pit crew in an automotive race, he said, with everybody doing a specific job. In fact, the city can have four paramedics on an emergency scene quickly. Bennett said that's important because performing high-quality chest compressions on a patient is fatiguing. Extra help means people can be relieved properly.
If all the ambulances are in service, a firetruck responds. Forty of the department's 44 employees are paramedics, and all the emergency vehicles carry defibrillators.
"Augusta has obtained a HeartSafe Community recognition for public education in CPR and the number of AEDs we have in our community," Audette said. The program is aimed at improving chances of recovery for those suffering a cardiovascular event, such as cardiac arrest, a heart attack or a stroke.
Pieh said those are known as "time-urgent events. If we can make an intervention rapidly, we can have an impact on people's surviving."
He gives a presentation on the use of defibrillators, noting that for "every minute that passes between collapse and defibrillation, survival declines by 10 percent if no bystander CPR is initiated. If bystander CPR is initiated, we can triple survival rates."
For its part in Emergency Medical Services week, Augusta will have an emergency medical services helicopter offer demonstrations and will have ambulances and firetrucks at Capital Park (in front of the Augusta Police Station and the Kennebec Valley YMCA) 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. May 18. More information is available on the Augusta Maine Fire-Rescue Facebook page.
That same day, the EMS Memorial and Education Site will be unveiled nearby, and Pieh, a family physician who works full-time for MaineGeneral Medical Center, will start pedaling in the National EMS Memorial Bike Ride, doing the Augusta-to-New York City leg.
The city's paramedics also will be out in the community offering free blood-pressure clinics that week.
Augusta is also a home base for the not-for-profit Delta Ambulance, which provides services to more than 16,000 people in 17 communities. Delta Ambulance also has a base in Waterville.