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LAFD ramps up EMS capabilities

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County adds paramedics to increase treatment level for calls

By Carol A. Clark

Eight recent graduates bring the total pool of certified paramedics at Los Alamos Fire Department to 23 – the largest in its history. The department anticipates another four firefighters will complete the intensive six-month program providing the community with 27 paramedics by year’s end.

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Assistant Fire Chief/Fire Marshal Mike Thompson explained that the time commitment and sacrifices to make this happen are significant for both the department and the firefighters.

The certified program is completed at the Santa Fe Community College, EMS Battalion Chief Justin Grider said, adding that the driver behind the program is increased customer service for patients throughout the county and at the laboratory.

“Our paramedics have more than 1,000 hours of classroom time, plus their internships, mentorships and clinical rotations. During the clinical rotations, the firefighters actually go into the emergency room and the operating room and work hand in hand with the doctors,” Grider said. “It’s an intense program that one really has to have the heart and drive to be a paramedic in order to tolerate the time away from family and the time away from work.”

Family members are brought in to ensure they understand the sacrifices when a firefighter expresses the desire to become a paramedic, Grider said.

“We want to make sure the family understands what it’s going to take. Firefighters in the program attend class eight to 10 hour a day Monday through Thursday and participate in clinical rotations at night,” he said.

Firefighter Tim Johnson, 33, is one of the eight newly graduated paramedics. He’s been married to Shannon Johnson for 12 years. She works at Los Alamos National Laboratory and was expecting the couple’s second child when her husband entered the program.

“This was a path I always wanted to take and a goal I wanted to reach in my firefighting career. The late nights pouring over text books and studying for tests was challenging as I wasn’t able to devote as much time and attention to my family as I would have liked,” he said.

Johnson praised the education he received during his clinical rotations saying the best part of it all is “being able to provide the highest possible level of care to patients in the field.”

Johnson graduated Jan. 15 and his son, Lucas, was born Feb. 11. The couple also has a 3-year-old daughter, Gwyneth.

All Los Alamos County firefighters are, at minimum, licensed EMT-Basic.

An EMT-B has a very comprehensive level of skill and can handle most types of medical or trauma emergency.

The next level of EMT is called an EMT-Intermediate. EMT-I’s have 160 hours of additional training that includes all of the Basic EMT skills, plus Intravenous fluid administration and various drug therapies.

LAFD maintains an average of 13 EMT-I’s on shift at any time and are on practically all EMS calls as a minimum response.

Paramedics are the highest level of EMT.

They provide Advanced Life Support Services, or ALS.

LAFD typically has a minimum of three to five paramedics on duty at any one time as a paramedic can dramatically increase the field capability to manage various life threatening emergencies.