Fighting Fire with . . . Health Care?

Should firemen serve as health care providers? An story in today’s New York Times describes this scenario:

It was 3 a.m. and in the past 24-hour shift, Mr. Muyleart, a firefighter, had responded to at least one emergency call per hour. But only two of those calls were for fires; most of the others involve heart attacks, diabetic sores, epileptic seizures and people complaining of shortness of breath.

Apparently in Washington, every time there is an emergency call, the fire department responds along with emergency personnel “in the belief that it can provide the quickest response.” Engine Company 10 receives more than 6,500 calls a year (close to three times the national average according to Firehouse Magazine), 80% of which are medical emergencies. The reason: Engine Company 10 serves an extremely poor neighborhood.

Now, the interesting thing about this is that because of more efforts in fireproofing and prevention, firemen are not having as many fires to fight. So the city discovered that not only could firemen respond quicker, they would make great emergency medical technicians. And the firemen, while not excited about providing health care support, can stay employed.

In the next 24 hours, the company took three calls involving asthma attacks, five for chest pains or shortness of breath, two for assaults and six for unconscious people on the sidewalk. The only other fire was a small one in a trash hauling bin.

I’m glad that Engine Company 10 is there to provide health services to the needy population in Washington, but does this really make sense as the best way to provide appropriate care? What do you think?

Here’s a link to the article: Firefighters Become Medics to the Poor

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