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City Changing EMS Procedures

The City of Columbus has modified the way its paramedics and emergency medical technicians respond to emergencies. Mike Foley explains.

Columbus Mayor Andy Ginther announced the citywide changes at Station 15 on East Livingston Avenue. The busiest station in the city for medical responses averaged about 17 per day last year. Ginther says the city must realign and expand the EMS system due to a growing population and evolving public health challenges.

“In 1996, the division was composed of 1,269 firefighters who responded to approximately 62,000 EMS calls for service. In 2015, the division had 1,535 firefighters and responded to approximately 133,000 EMS calls. This is a 115 percent increase in the demand for service contrasted with a 20 percent increase in personnel, and illustrates the need to address a growing imbalance between calls for service and resources.”

Ginther says paramedics represent 44 percent of the city’s personnel, but they respond to about 85 percent of service calls. Columbus Fire Chief Kevin O’Connor explains the restructuring.

“Right now, every firefighter is trained to the EMT level of certification in the state of Ohio. This new system will have one paramedic and one EMT on the EMS transport vehicle. Staffing on the engine companies will continue to have at least one paramedic at all times. Nothing will change as to the capabilities of either vehicle. Every EMS transport vehicle and every engine remains advanced life support capable. The division realized that having two paramedics on EMS transport vehicles, many times one of these paramedics was being underutilized having them responsible for non-patient care functions. By removing one of the paramedics off the transport vehicle and replacing with one EMT, it reduces the high demand our paramedics currently face. This system will now have 100 percent of our workforce capable of performing 100 percent of our work.”

Dr. David Keseg – the fire division’s medical director - says the new system ensures the appropriate number of paramedics based on the type of emergency.

“Having a neurosurgeon provide care for someone with a splinter in their finger is not practical, nor responsible. Within our EMS system here in Columbus, we have a limited amount of personnel resources that must be correctly and efficiently applied based on the patient needs. The operative question is not how many paramedics are on the truck, but how many are at the patient’s side for the presenting complaint. So even for the patients who have a sprained ankle or an ear ache and call 911, they will still have the benefit of having a paramedic working with a basic EMT to evaluate and treat their problem. And for the patient with a more serious problem like abdominal pain or an allergic reaction, an engine will be added to that assignment, and they will have at least 2 paramedics and 3 to 4 basic EMTs. And finally, for the patient who has suffered a cardiac arrest or a gunshot wound, they will have at least 3 paramedics and 3 to 4 basic EMTs, because an EMS supervisor will be added to that assignment.”

Ginther says the new system illustrates the city’s continued commitment to safety. His proposed 2017 budget calls for two fire classes totaling 80 recruits. The city also added a class this year, and those 25 recruits begin training later this month. The city’s also rebuilding Station 2 downtown on Fulton Street and constructing a new fire station on the east side along Waggoner Road. Ginther says Station 35 marks the first new-build in Columbus since 2003.

Mike Foley joined WCBE in February 2000, coming from WUFT in Gainesville, Florida. Foley has worked in various roles, from producing news and feature stories to engineering Live From Studio A sessions. A series of music features Foley started in 2018 called Music Journeys has grown into a podcast and radio show. He also assists in developing other programs in WCBE's Podcast Experience. Foley hosts The Morning Mix, a weekday music show featuring AAA, Columbus-area and Ohio-based musicians, along with additional artists that inspire him.