Achieving paramedic status is a big step for the DeForest Windsor Fire & EMS Department. The improved level of care is likely to result in lives being saved.
“It’s the highest level of pre-hospital care available,” said DeForest Windsor Fire Chief Steve LaFeber.
Jon Yaskal, the department’s EMS director, elaborated on what it means for the community.
“It will bring the initial 10 to 15 minutes of [emergency room] time to the patient,” said Yaskal. “There will be a lot of treatments we’ll be capable of doing from the ambulance, rather than waiting to have them done at the hospital.”
In essence, said LaFeber, “We’re bringing the doctor to the patient.”
Everything from trips and falls to strokes, heart attacks and significant trauma can now be treated at a higher level by the department. Its primary ambulance has the paramedical designation. Someday, it might become necessary to hire the staffing for its second ambulance to be used for paramedic service. Such a change would depend on the growth of the community – with increased call volume – and budgetary concerns. It is equipped for it right now.
There are six currently licensed medics in the department. Several more department members are in classes to become medics.
“We were building for this ahead of the program,” said LaFeber.
Through October, the department is operating at the paramedic level part-time, according to LaFeber. He said it will go full time 24 hours a day, seven days a week, on Nov. 6, although the department is still looking for medics for Sunday shifts.
LaFeber said discussions about striving to reach paramedic status began in earnest about a decade ago. As different chiefs transitioned through the department, the timing never seemed right, said LaFeber, but it gained steam two years ago, becoming part of the department’s strategic plan.
Yaskal put together an operations plan that was reviewed by the state for its approval. LaFeber said there was a lot of work done behind the scenes. Persuading both the DeForest and Windsor village boards that it was a good idea was part of it. LaFeber credited their cooperation in helping pull it all together to make it work, as well as the fire protection board. He also said that paid on-call staff had to be convinced that they weren’t being replaced, but rather the additional staffing would supplement their work. Some of the paid on-call members will staff EMS’s second ambulance.
For more than 20 years, Dr. David Ringdahl worked with the EMS department as medical director, but was not prepared to move forward with its paramedic transformation. He will be receiving a plaque for his contributions on Nov. 7, when Dr. Ringdahl is also coming to observe, said LaFeber.
To receive paramedic status, the department needed an emergency physician. It is contracting with Madison Emergency Physicians from SSM for that service.
The paramedic ambulance now being used by the department has a staff of at least three, with one paramedic. It is supplied with medication. Also, through a donation, it gained laryngoscopes that allow ambulance staff to see down a patient’s airway.
With increased medication for the ambulance comes enhanced security. Safes have been added to the ambulance, along with upgraded door locks at the station. LaFeber said there will be more accountability for staff as to their comings and goings and who has been in the drug drawer.
The move comes with a price. LaFeber said the department’s budget has increased by 21 percent because of it. Most of that is payroll costs, said LaFeber.
According to LaFeber, those expenses will be offset, as the department expects to recoup around $100,000 in billable revenue it loses every year to neighboring municipalities, who previously provided coverage on calls the DeForest Windsor paramedic ambulance will now service.
Still, LaFeber said the reasons for the move to paramedic service have to do more with medicine than finances.
“The revenue doesn’t drive our decisions, but it is a significant amount,” said LaFeber.
By adding the paramedic program, LaFeber said that hiring additional staff will mean more regular staffing for the department’s second ambulance. That will lead to more work for the ambulance.
“The second ambulance will be available more regularly,” said LaFeber. He added that it will be staffed at 75 percent. Previously, it depended on who would show up.
The DeForest Windsor department is unique in that both fire and EMS are under one roof. There are smaller communities that have paramedic service. Call volume plays a big role in whether communities need it.
When making the jump to this level, Yaskal said more expectations come with it, as far as training, run reviews, a higher quality of assessment and protocols. Maintaining the highest possible quality of care is crucial, according to LaFeber.