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Medical-only crews will help respond to high call volume, allowing firefighters more time for fire response calls and training

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL - Scappoose Fire District and Columbia River Fire and Rescue will be launching a program in March providing for medical-only crews to respond to service calls, allowing firefighters to respond to fires and focus on training standards. The fire districts are currently recruiting to hire part-time EMT and paramedics.Emergency responders in Columbia County are trying to increase capacity for medical call response by launching a trial program to hire part-time paramedics and EMTs.

In an effort to allow firefighting personnel more time to remain in the county to focus on training and fire response, Scappoose Fire Department and Columbia River Fire and Rescue are launching a year-long trial program working with part-time medical teams to assist with service calls.

Each fire department will have one crew working during peak hours to respond to medical calls. In Scappoose, staffing will be between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., while in St. Helens peak staffing hours will be 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

SFD and CRFR will each hire one crew and monitor its performance over the next year to gauge effectiveness. One paramedic and one EMT will form a single crew, which is required to staff an advanced life support ambulance, Fire Chief Mike Greisen explained.

In Scappoose, medical calls make up a vast majority of calls for service. In 2017, medical calls made up 68 percent of call volume. Out of 2,070 calls, 1,420 were related to rescue or emergency medical service calls. Over the past five years, medical response has made up an average of 67 percent of calls.

When medical calls require transport to Portland-area hospitals, the response time can take up to two-and-a-half hours, Greisen said, which can be problematic if call volume is high or multiple medical calls come in at once. For example, on Sunday, Jan. 7, SFD received three medical calls, but only had sufficient personnel to respond to two, requiring a third ambulance unit to be called in from St. Helens.

Medical crews can transport more calls to Portland-area hospitals, which will allow firefighters to remain in district more often when they are on shift.

In the long run, Greisen said he hopes improvements in training that meet Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training requirements will also help the district improve its Insurance Service Office ratings, which factor into the cost of fire insurance for residents.

SFD recently concluded its first round of recruiting for the open positions and received eight applications as of Monday afternoon. The goal is to roll out the program by the start of March.

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