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Ambulance reduces wear on fire engine

Morning Journal/Mary Ann Greier From left, Salem Firefighter Rob North, Capt. Shawn Mesler, Fire Chief Scott Mason, Inspector Kevin Bryan and Firefighter Mike Bryan (on the cot) demonstrate how the new power load cot system works, saving the backs of firefighters loading patients into the department ambulance. With the press of a button, the legs on the cot can raise or lower, so firefighters don’t have to lift the cot. The cot was purchased with CARES Act funds, along with a stair chair that’s been ordered.

SALEM — Salem Fire Department personnel continued to spend the majority of their shifts on medical calls in 2021, but instead of arriving on a fire truck, they arrived by ambulance the last six months.

In reviewing stats from last year, Chief Scott Mason indicated the addition of the squad has already proven its worth, with 60 transports to area hospitals and less wear and tear on the new fire engine.

“I think it has worked out extremely well,” he said.

A big reason why the department wanted an ambulance was to help residents. When a private company isn’t available, the fire department can transport, which can save valuable minutes for a patient instead of having to wait for a squad from an outlying community.

“Our ambulance has picked up the slack when the private companies have had to transport out of town,” Mason said.

Ambulances have to travel out of the city to another hospital sometimes for various reasons, including if the patient requires a trauma center such as St. Elizabeth Hospital in downtown Youngstown or if Salem Regional Medical Center is on diversion, meaning patients have to be taken somewhere else.

“I think it’s a good backup for the residents to always have an ambulance in town, stationed here at our station,” he said.

Having the ambulance also means firefighters don’t have to take a fire engine to a medical call.

Since June, the new Engine 2 ran on 307 calls and the ambulance ran on 889 calls. The old Engine 2 ran on 764 calls for the first half of 2021 before the ambulance arrived.

Mason said that shows the use of the ambulance is taking a lot of the strain, wear and tear off of the pumper (Engine 2).

“Multiply that out 10 years, that’s going to be a significant amount of calls,” he said.

In the past two years, the fire department has been able to beef up it’s equipment to better care for patients, using CARES Act funds to pay for the ambulance, a heart monitor and Lucas device which will automatically perform CPR, all in 2020 for $193,887. The ambulance was delivered in 2021. This past year, $48,205 in CARES Act funding was used to purchase a power load cot system for loading patients into the ambulance and a stair chair that can be used to ease transport in tight spots or on stairs. They also received a new pediatric transport system for use in the ambulance.

The power load cot system reduces the risk of back injury for firefighters and also frees up firefighters to care for the patient during the transport process, such as continuing CPR while loading.

Out of 2,147 total calls in 2021, there were 1,472 EMS calls and more than 63 percent of the total calls were medicals. That 63 percent doesn’t include the 48 motor vehicle accidents with injuries or the five pedestrian vs. motor vehicle accidents. The number of EMS calls in 2021 increased from the number in 2020, which was 1,337.

Total calls for 2021 increased from the 1,977 total calls in 2020, but according to Mason, those numbers in 2020 and 2021 are still down at least 2 percent from the overall activity in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. He theorized that 2021 saw more activity because “I think people are just tired of being cooped up.”

More businesses were open, more people were getting out and he said they were not as scared of the virus as they were initially.

He did note that medical calls did not increase because of the ambulance. The fire department would have been going anyway, with Engine 2.

The number of fires increased from 49 (12 structure fires) in 2020 to 61 (19 structure fires) in 2021, but he said there were no contributing factors to explain why. The number historically goes up and down. Hazardous materials calls were about the same, decreasing from 116 to 113. Service calls, which can include lockouts, animal rescues, public assists or water evacuations, increased from 282 to 325. Good intent calls, such as steam or vapor thought to be smoke, canceled calls enroute or wrong location, decreased from 83 to 64. Staying about the same were false alarms (101 in 2021 and 100 in 2020) and severe weather/citizen complaints (11 in 2021 and 10 in 2020).

The average response time remained 4.13 minutes, training hours increased from 2,434 hours to 2,740.7 hours, inspections increased from 183 to 193 and classes/tours (extinguisher training at businesses) decreased from 15 to 14. Grants/fees collected increased from 1,200 to $1,403 (covering EMS supplies).

Mason said training went up due to training for the new ambulance and new Engine 2, both received in 2021, and Inspector Kevin Bryan taking fire science classes and inspector classes. Inspections stayed about the same, affected by the pandemic.

The fire department staff includes the chief and 15 firefighters, broken down by three captains, three lieutenants, three inspectors and six firefighters. All firefighters are certified as EMT Basic, with three certified as paramedics. The department tries to run with one paramedic per 24-hour shift. University Hospital oversees the medical protocols and provides a lot of medical supplies and conducts a monthly training session.

“The Salem Fire Department is still striving to give the best service possible,” Mason said.

The department also still has the smoke detector program. Any city resident in need of a smoke detector, can call 330-337-3053 to arrange to have one installed.

mgreier@salemnews.net

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