Joaquin VFD works on EMR course

'To Close the Gap,' Firefighter Says

     Joaquin Fire Department volunteers are scheduled to take their final exam in their Emergency Medical Responder course on August 27, after their first test on July 9 by Kilgore College instructor, Chief Michael Simmons. 

     “The department down here seems really eager and hungry for training to do things by the book,” Simmons said. “We are doing a unique hybrid classroom set-up here, where we are using the online, interactive modules, lectures, and along with some face to face supplemental teaching and quizzing the physical skills associated with the course. It is my understanding that something like this is the first being done in this area.” 

     The firefighters meet every Tuesday at 6 p.m at the Fire Department to watch the course videos and take the online quizzes. 

     “We started this program around late March,” Volunteer firefighter Steven Ewing said. “We’ve had several incidents in the past couple of years, where there was a delay in someone getting medical assistance when they needed it due to the fact that Allegiance EMS is based in Center. That can create a 15 to 20-minute delay before they can get to this area. That’s no fault of theirs, they are based in the center of the county and it isn’t feasible for an ambulance to be posted in Joaquin 24/7. What we are trying to do is close that gap and be in a position to help someone sooner.” 

     Nine volunteers are enrolled in an online course at Kilgore College Emergency Medical Responder class. 

     “This qualification is engineered directly for people who are going to be on the scene first, not someone who travels on ambulances,” Ewing said. “EMR is trained in essentially advanced first aid, CPR, oxygen therapy, what needs to be done to stabilize a patient before an ambulance arrives on the scene. This is just a level up into advanced care and since we will be working with Allegiance, we now have protocols that they have in place to protect the legalities of the situation. So far, we’ve responded to six or eight medical calls, but it doesn’t really matter what the nature of the call is when we are dispatched, we will respond and do whatever we can do to help people.” 

     The Texas Forest Service House Bill 2604 Grant Program provides rural volunteer fire departments with funding for necessities like firefighter training, equipment, protective clothing, dry-hydrants, and computer systems. 

     “We have to pay for the program but then the Forest Services program reimburses us, so we are able to get this program completely paid for, at no cost to tax-payers and our department funds that we receive through fundraisers and things of that nature,” Ewing said. “We wanted to use an accredited organization and the Joaquin fire department has worked with Kilgore College before. They are the best institution in East Texas as far as fire and EMS training goes. Also, because they are accredited, their training is eligible for reimbursement through the Texas Forest Service 2604 Grant Program. There was a little bit of paperwork involved, but the 2604 program is a valuable resource for rural fire departments.” 

     Despite the class being recompensed, the initial costs of medical supplies will be on the volunteers themselves.

     “To start with, the medical supplies we stock our truck with, will be on us. While they are not terribly expensive, we’ve already set up a deal with Allegiance where they replace the medical supplies we use,” Ewing said. “For example, if we use an oxygen mask, they are going to leave the mask on the patient, and just hand us one from their truck. By themselves, oxygen masks are like three dollars but over time the cost adds up. This way, no one is really spending extra money. No one will be charged for two masks or anything like that.” 

     The VFD is dispatched through the 9-1-1 system. When 911 is called, that call is answered at the Shelby County Sheriff’s office, where the relevant pagers are alerted. 

     “As of right now, we will be covering the Joaquin area,” Ewing said. “The people at Kilgore College have made it very clear that they would be happy to work with other departments in Shelby County for all of their training needs if there is interest there. We are taking an online course, but they will be sending down an instructor down to pass our people on the skills portion of the class. That would be really difficult for a program located in a bigger city. We will also be working hand in hand with Allegiance, and they’ve actually helped us set up protocol.” 

     The Joaquin VFD will also be quizzed on their patient assessments, where firefighters learn the proper way to talk to and treat patients. 

“There is a huge need for fire-safety instructors,” Simmons said. “We are hoping that if this program works out with schedules and being able to complete the class and get the certification that these guys will be able to teach this class to other departments in the area.”