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November 19, 2017

Washington County's rural firefighters stop responding to some psychiatric calls


Washington County’s rural firefighters stop responding to some psychiatric calls

Rural volunteer firefighters in Washington County no longer go to some psychiatric emergency calls, said…


Rural volunteer firefighters in Washington County no longer go to some psychiatric emergency calls, said Steve Harrison, Central EMS assistant chief.

The change began Aug. 1 under a pilot program and will be evaluated in January. Rural fire departments, which are mostly staffed with volunteers, previously went as backup to every scene an ambulance went, Harrison said. The volunteers typically get to scenes faster than the ambulance service because they live closer, officials said.

Washington County Fire Association

The Washington County Fire Association was formed to encourage agreements among rural fire department chiefs and to create effective fire training and equipment. The overall objective of the association is to provide service using multiple fire departments to county residents during emergencies. About 19 fire departments are members. The next association meeting is at 7 p.m. Jan. 23 at the Washington County Sheriff’s Office annex.

Source: Staff report

“It’s not that we are not running the calls period, we are only running the calls that it’s confirmed someone is injured,” said Shane Wood, Round Mountain Volunteer Fire Department chief. “If it gets deemed that somebody really did do something to themselves, then we will be there.”

Harrison said rural departments aren’t responding to calls such as people saying they aren’t thinking right, or they’re thinking of hurting themselves or they haven’t seriously tried to hurt themselves. The calls also can be third- or fourth-hand from friends who thought they read something online about someone wanting to hurt himself, emergency officials said.

Fayetteville’s Fire Department has a similar policy, Chief David Dayringer said.

Harrison presented information on the pilot program to the Washington County Fire Association meeting last month.

Between Aug. 1 and mid-October, Central EMS went to 81 psychiatric emergencies without rural firefighters. Among those, 25 patients went to a hospital, Harrison said. About 40 of those calls were canceled or nothing happened, Wood and others said.

Volunteer fire departments were called to two scenes after officials found an emergency existed.

Central EMS crews went to psychiatric emergencies where no one was seriously hurt 711 times in 2016, records show. The ambulance service was dispatched to 1,061 similar calls between January and October this year.

Wood said several departments support the change, but some are concerned. Members from at least two fire departments told Central EMS and other fire chiefs during the meeting volunteers should go out on the calls as backup for medics and police.

But, rural departments aren’t needed for every call, Wood said. They aren’t trained to deal with psychiatric or mental health issues, and departments already struggle to recruit and retain firefighters, he said.

The change helps stretch resources and gives firefighters a break, said J.C. Dobbs, Prairie Grove Fire Department chief. “It’s trying to put time back into these volunteers’ lives,” he said.

Before the policy change, volunteer firefighters got called in the middle of the night to go wait on the side of a road with medics until police investigated a psychiatric call, Wood said. Volunteers would wait up to 45 minutes for law enforcement to make sure the area was safe and then be released without seeing a patient, he said.

That wait stretched small departments’ resources and took time away from volunteers, many of whom work during the day, firefighters said.

“Volunteer fire departments are getting stretched really thin nowadays,” Wood said.

As the population continues to grow, so have the emergency calls, firefighters said.

For example, Prairie Grove goes to about 1,000 emergency calls per year. That’s up from 200 about 20 years ago, Dobbs said. The department has 25 volunteers.

“You can’t expect people to continue to run at that pace all the time,” Dobbs said.

About six years ago, Round Mountain department had 30 volunteers, Wood said, but that’s down to 10 volunteers who routinely go to 250 emergency calls per year, he said. The stress and workload has made recruiting and retaining volunteers more and more difficult, Dobbs and Wood said.

“You’re just trying to preserve your resources,” Wood said. “In my position, I want to make sure I’ve got people available to run the next call.”

NW News on 11/13/2017


Source: Washington County’s rural firefighters stop responding to some psychiatric calls

Washington County’s rural firefighters stop responding to some psychiatric calls


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