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Seeking continuous improvement

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LAFD strives to raise field medical capabilities

By Carol A. Clark

Twenty-three certified paramedics within a force of 150 firefighters may seem like overkill to some but that’s not so, says the Los Alamos Fire Department.

“Our mission is to preserve lives and protect property and the environment and it’s our honor to do so,” EMS Battalion Chief Justin Grider said. “We want to consistently provide the finest level of service possible. We all live here, too and we want what’s best for our community and Los Alamos National Laboratory as well as for us and our families.”

The state has three levels of emergency training, of which LAFD paramedics provide the highest level of pre-hospital care. They are trained to recognize and treat potentially lethal cardiac rhythms, critical medical conditions and trauma conditions in the field, Grider said. These types of calls require a paramedic level of response known as Advanced Life Support or ALS.

Grider will complete 11 years with the LAFD May 5 and said the department had 15 paramedics for years and just recently graduated eight more, adding that four additional paramedics are expected to graduate by the end of the year.

Apart from the firefighter’s regular salary and any incurred overtime, the cost for paramedic certification at the Santa Fe Community College includes $4,500 for tuition plus the cost of books, mileage per diem and any hospital rotation or physician internship fees. Paramedics train for the worst-case scenarios in the emergency room, operating room and psychiatric ward.

Every one of the department’s 150 firefighters is at minimum, a licensed EMT-Basic.

EMT-Basic is a comprehensive skill level that can handle most basic types of medical or trauma emergencies. The intermediate level is an EMT-I. EMTs at this level have 160 hours of additional training that includes all of the Basic EMT skills, plus intravenous fluid administration and various drug therapies.

The fire department maintains an average of 13 EMT-I’s on shift at any time and they respond to most EMS calls at a minimum, Grider said.

“We’ll be conducting at least one intermediate training class this year along with the EMT-Basic for the current recruit class of 10 scheduled to graduate in August,” he said.

While the fire department is pleased with the program in place at Santa Fe Community College, Grider said as a cost savings they are “testing the waters” on providing the paramedic certification program themselves, in conjunction with The University of New Mexico and the local campus.

The training would take place either at the LAFD Training Center on DP Road or at Station 3 in White Rock.