Fire District 1 wins national EMS award

Snohomish County Fire District 1 Commissioner Karen Dingmon, Capt. Shaughn Maxwell and Fire Chief Ed Widdis receive the national Excellence in Fire Service-Based EMS Award presented by Chris Neal (far left), board member of the Congressional Fire Service Institute, and Andrew Wigglesworth (far right), president and chief executive officer of the MedicAlert Foundation, at the National Fire and Emergency Services Dinner in Washington, D.C., on May 9. Fire District 1 was one of only three departments in the country selected for this honor in 2013.

Snohomish County Fire District 1 has just been honored with the national Excellence in Fire Service-Based EMS Award presented by the Congressional Fire Services Institute and the MedicAlert Foundation.

This competitive award is given annually to honor departments championing innovative practices to enhance the quality of emergency medical services (EMS). This year’s award showcased three agencies – Fire District 1, Montgomery County Fire Rescue (Maryland) and Miami Dade Fire and Rescue (Florida) — for “forging new ground in fire service-based EMS.”

The award was presented to Fire District 1 May 9 at the 25th Annual National Fire and Emergency Services Dinner in Washington, D.C. More than 2,000 fire-service leaders from throughout the country attended along with Vice President Joe Biden, the keynote speaker.

Fire District 1 is the county’s largest provider of fire and emergency medical services, serving nearly 200,000 residents in unincorporated communities, Brier, Edmonds, Mountlake Terrace and Woodway.

“This national award recognizes the outstanding achievements of the nearly 200 firefighters at the 12 fire stations we staff in south Snohomish County,” said Fire District 1 Chief Ed Widdis. “Each one of these men and women is dedicated to delivering prompt, dependable, high quality fire and rescue service to the citizens we serve.”

Fire District 1 was recognized for its pioneering use of EMS checklists to improve patient outcomes. “Checklists are already successfully used in other industries where safety is paramount, such as surgery, nuclear energy and aviation. In the fire service, we’ve used checklists for years at fire scenes, but this is the first time the concept has been applied to improve outcomes on medical aid calls,” explained Capt. Shaughn Maxwell, who along with Dr. Richard Campbell, Fire District 1’s medical director, developed the EMS checklist program.

The checklists are based on extensive research on conditions where science shows key EMS treatments can improve patient outcomes. These include heart attacks, strokes, asthma, trauma, seizures and heart failure. Key EMS interventions were identified for each condition and used to building simple checklists EMS providers can use in the field.

“Our EMS providers have the knowledge and training to provide these interventions. The checklists assure our EMS experts consistently apply these key interventions – every time for every patient,” Maxwell said.

About 77 percent of the nearly 20,000 emergency responses in Fire District 1 last year were for medical aid. All Fire District 1 firefighters are certified as either emergency medical technicians or paramedics.

“Our firefighters do incredible EMS work, often in chaotic situations. They may be treating a patient on a busy highway, in a crowded gymnasium or in a home surrounded by concerned family members. Each situation has its own challenges,” Maxwell said. “The checklists are another tool they can use. The checklists highlight critical areas of care to promote consistent and reliable application of best practices, regardless of the variables found on each emergency scene.”

The checklists are attracting national attention, not just from the committee that selected Fire District 1 to receive the national EMS excellence award. Maxwell presented the program to fire service and EMS leaders at the International Association of Fire Chiefs EMS conference in Las Vegas on May 7.

Chief Widdis told those in attendance at last night’s award ceremony he is proud of the ground-breaking work firefighters are doing in Fire District 1. “We strive to provide the best care possible when people call 9-1-1 with a medical emergency,” he said. “These new EMS checklists are a welcomed new tool to assure that the highest quality of care is consistently provided. That is what we are all about.”

Fire District 1’s cardiac arrest survival rate of nearly 50 percent is one of the best in the nation and well above the national average of about 10 percent (as measured using internationally recognized standards.

This year, despite overall agency budget reductions due to lost tax revenue, Fire District 1 adjusted staffing to put more medical aid units on the street during times of the day when 9-1-1 calls are the most frequent. Fire District 1 also became the only fire agency in the county with a medical service officer on duty around the clock to provide on-scene assistance to first-responder paramedics and EMTs.

“Our highly trained firefighters and medics are doing a great job responding to medical emergencies,” said Fire District 1 Commissioner Karen Dingmon, who also attended the award presentation in Washington, D.C. “We are fortunate to have this highly skilled workforce doing all they can to protect our South County communities whenever emergencies occur.”

In a drill, Snohomish County Fire District 1 Firefighter/EMT Erik Arcus and Paramedic Neil Kelly demonstrate how EMS checklists are used to assure key interventions are applied consistently to improve patient outcomes.

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