As you may already be aware, there has been a great deal of discussion lately regarding the responsibilities and abilities of the various volunteer fire departments in Cherokee County; that coming in the wake of the Town of Cedar Bluff’s recent announcement that they would no longer automatically dispatch firefighters on medical runs.
Mayor Tammy Crane said however, that there will be times when an ambulance isn’t close by and certain situations could require a quicker response – and she assured everyone that during those times the fire department will be ready to answer those calls – and any others that they are directly requested to assist with.
On Monday, WEIS Radio News received a detailed letter from Fire Chief Rich Lindsey of the McCord’s Fire Department, on behalf of the Cherokee County Association of Volunteer Fire Departments – outlining the services provided by the fire departments across the county – and their ever-changing roles in regard to public safety.
Lindsey covers the fire dispatch policy, the training and responsibilities of firefighters, their partnership with other emergency service providers and much more.
Cherokee County Association of Volunteer Fire Department’s
P.O. Box 850 Centre, Alabama 35960
21st Century Fire Department
Cherokee County is served by thirteen volunteer fire departments. The first fire department was established in the City of Centre in 1937. The other twelve fire departments were formed over the next 48 years. Over the last decade, the services that fire departments provide in Cherokee County have been rapidly evolving from just fire suppression to fire and rescue services.
Since 2008, the fire dispatch policy, written by the Cherokee County Association of Volunteer Fire Departments (CCAVFD) and administered by Cherokee County E911, states that first responders should be dispatched to any report of a person who is in possible cardiac arrest, suffering from a heart attack, not breathing, experiencing difficulty breathing, suffering from a blocked airway, or when breathing cannot be confirmed. First responders are also dispatched to any report of a person who has sustained an injury resulting in uncontrollable bleeding, blood loss in life-threatening quantities, an injury or illness that is deemed to be of immediate threat to loss of life or limb, or upon the request of an EMS provider or any municipal, county, or state agency in an emergency situation. These are calls in which the time that lapses while a patient is waiting on medical treatment can mean life or death.
The most ideal scenario with calls involving these critical situations would involve an ambulance, staffed with a Paramedic, capable of providing Advanced Life Support (ALS) services being there in minutes and transporting the patient to a hospital; however, this is not always possible in rural settings such as Cherokee County. Cherokee County’s fire departments have a total membership of around 250 members. They live throughout all areas of the county and operate 14 stations around the county. This gives the fire departments a logistical and manpower advantage no other emergency service provider in Cherokee County has. All of the fire departments in the county were built by the communities that they serve and depend on those communities for support in order to continue operating. That is why the volunteer fire departments in Cherokee County began training their members and equipping their apparatus to expand their services to include Basic Life Support (BLS) and rescue services. This is just another way that the fire departments give back to the community.
The responsibility of such responses is not taken lightly. Approximately 80% of Cherokee County’s firemen are trained to provide BLS services through the American Heart Association. This training is designed to provide a wide variety of healthcare professionals the ability to recognize several life-threatening emergencies, provide CPR, use an AED, and relieve choking in a safe, timely and effective manner. Additionally, approximately 40% of Cherokee County’s firemen have a First Responder certification. A Certified First Responder is a person who has completed a course and received certification in providing pre-hospital care for medical emergencies. They have more skill than someone who is trained in basic first aid and CPR, but they are not a substitute for more advanced emergency medical care rendered by emergency medical technicians and paramedics. First responder courses cover the human body, lifting and moving patients, legal and ethical issues, patient assessment, medical and trauma emergencies, CPR and AED usage, respiratory emergencies, spinal and bone fracture immobilization, and EMS operations. Fire departments carry the equipment necessary to perform these tasks, such as BLS First Aid Kits, AEDs, immobilization equipment, personal protective equipment, etc. Fire departments also have liability insurance to mediate the risks associated with such responses. Alabama state law does not require volunteer fire departments who are providing such services to be licensed to do so.
Medical calls are not the only way in which the fire departments in Cherokee County have expanded their services. The CCAVFD dispatch policy also states the fire department shall be dispatched to any vehicle accident that involves an overturned vehicle, if multiple vehicles are involved, if there is report of unknown or confirmed injuries, if there is report of entrapment, or if there is report of hazardous materials or a fuel spill. Fire departments use these same BLS skills to assist with patient care at vehicle accidents. Several of Cherokee County’s fire departments have equipped themselves with rescue tools for extricating trapped patients from vehicles. The fire department also begins identifying and mitigating fire and other hazards upon arrival making a much safer environment for all involved.
The CCAVFD believes that the fire departments have been successful thus far. According to the American Heart Association, brain death starts to occur four to six minutes after someone experiences cardiac arrest if no CPR and defibrillation occurs during that time. With trauma injuries, the time that it takes to get a patient to the hospital can be critical to their survival and recovery. Cherokee County’s fire departments are reducing the amount of time that lapses while Cherokee County citizens are waiting on medical treatment and rescue services, especially in the most rural communities of the county. While some have argued that we are duplicating services, we feel that we are enhancing the emergency services provided to the citizens and visitors of our great county.
Despite the increased focus on rescue services, Cherokee County Fire Departments are also enhancing the fire protection provided to the county. Our departments have done an excellent job managing our limited funding, utilizing federal grant programs, and raising funds to purchase modern, reliable apparatus and equipment to better serve Cherokee County. Many of Cherokee County’s fire departments have recently received impressive Public Protection Classifications issued through the Insurance Services Office, saving home and business owners a lot of money each year.
Most all departments have two or more Class A pumpers and some type of four-wheel-drive brush truck or quick response vehicle. Many departments have specialty vehicles that suit the needs of their districts. Several departments have tankers to shuttle water to fires that are not in close proximity to a hydrant or some other water source. Other vehicles in the county’s fleet include a boat and a couple of ladder trucks. The CCAVFD has automatic and mutual aid policies in place to ensure that this equipment is available to any community at any time.
Cherokee County Fire departments answered a total of 1482 calls in 2012. Of these about 40% involved some type of BLS service and 37% involved some type of fire. Each of these calls was answered by dedicated volunteers whose desire is to serve and love their friends and neighbors. Each of the county’s 13 departments receives approximately $26,000.00 annually from a property tax that was enacted in 1996. This funding is barely enough to pay for utilities, insurance, fuel, and maintenance on trucks and equipment. Most fire department improvements, such as purchasing new trucks and equipment, come from grants and donations. The fire departments cannot exist without their communities, and the communities cannot succeed without their fire departments. We urge every family with the means to do so to support your local volunteer fire department. This can be done through active membership, financial donations, or in-kind contributions. We are honored to serve Cherokee County.
Written by Chief Rich Lindsey, McCord’s Fire Department