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Fire trucks today are like 'an emergency room on wheels'

Medical capability is becoming greater and greater at LOFD


by: VERN UYETAKE - Firefighter Ken Green of the Lake Oswego Fire Department says of his department's defibrillator: 'We love this kind of stuff.'The career of Steve DeHart is a good indicator of just how far medical service offered by the Lake Oswego Fire Department has come over the past three decades.

“When I started with the fire service in 1979, we had a defibrillator about the size of a suitcase that weighed about 80 pounds,” said DeHart, who is the longtime emergency medical service (EMS) coordinator for the fire department. “It had two paddles on it (used to deliver an electric shock to patients whose hearts had stopped), and that was it.”

Today the department has defibrillators that weigh less than 20 pounds, are extremely compact and, best of all, can perform all kinds of tasks, such as taking blood pressure, testing oxygen and monitoring just what measures are needed to treat a heart crisis. Like issuing a paper report that gives a “play by play” on a heart attack that rolls out from a little slot. You see it, but you don’t believe it.

Gert Zoutendijk, fire marshal for Lake Oswego, keeps coming up with the same word to describe the medical tools firefighters now possess.

“It’s amazing,” Zoutendijk said. “It’s amazing.”

Fire departments used to be best known for fighting fires and getting cats out of trees. Now they are on the front line of saving lives, the force that can make all the difference between life or death. As DeHart said, “A fire truck is like an emergency room on wheels.”

Lake Oswego firefighters can do all kinds of medical chores, which they proved recently on a call to a posh office building on Meadows Road. Glue being used to lay down a carpet in an office suite proved to be toxic, and employees started reeling from the fumes, including one lady who started laughing hysterically and could not stop. by: VERN UYETAKE - Emergency Medical Service Coordinator Steve DeHart of the Lake Oswego Fire Department demonstrates the amazingly versatile iPad used by his department.

The LOFD crew soon put fears to rest, treating the people afflicted by the fumes and helping to ventilate the building. The firefighters could have done more, too.

“We could have decontaminated them with a fire hose with lots of water,” Zoutendijk said. “But we didn’t need to.”

Fire department staffers are also prepared to treat burns, animal bites and insect stings, to give oxygen and more.

But it is the treatment of heart attacks that shows how awesome medical advances have been, especially over the past 10 years. Again, it is the veteran EMS expert DeHart who can best describe what has happened. He has some “amazing” statistics.

“In 2004, our fire department had zero cardiac saves,” said DeHart, meaning medical responders were unable to save a single victim of cardiac arrest. By 2012, the LOFD had made a huge turnaround.

“The ROC (Resuscitation Operations Consortium, an organization covering fire departments throughout the nation) ranked Lake Oswego No. 6 in cardiac saves,” DeHart said.

With a note of wonder in his voice, DeHart said, “There are 30 people in Lake Oswego today walking around who get to spend another day with their families and another day with their grandchildren. We’re making a significant difference.”

Instead of having patients languishing in an emergency room for three hours, LOFD emergency medical technicians can drastically shorten the time from the 911 call to “balloon time” — when doctors in a cardiac catheterization lab use a catheter to help remove a blood clot and save a life — to under an hour.

Amazingly, lifesaving equipment has gotten even better.

“Since the first of the year we’ve been using an iPad,” Zoutendijk said.

With a few clicks, Zoutendijk and DeHart can obtain information on medications, symptoms, chemicals, protocols, guidebooks and even traffic directions.

The true test of “amazing-ness” comes when emergency responders encounter people who speak only Spanish. This dilemma is easily solved when the person speaks into an iPad and it translates the words into English.

“We keep upgrading and upgrading and getting fancier stuff,” Zoutendijk said.

Still, even though the LOFD’s medical capability keeps getting better and better, it is the training of responders that is the biggest factor in saving lives.

“Even having all of the drug history on hand is not as effective as the person who has to make the decisions,” DeHart said. “For example, we’ve learned what a huge difference it makes when compressions are made as fast as possible.

“You can always improve, but we’ve made some great strides.”

However, Zoutendijk adds a word of warning to this bright picture. Heart attack victims must be ready to take the first step in saving their own lives.

“Denial is huge when somebody suffers a heart attack,” Zoutendijk said. “When you feel like an elephant is sitting on your chest, it’s not about the burrito you just ate, it’s a heart attack. You need to call us.”




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  • 18 Apr 2014

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