Why do fire trucks show up for an emergency when there’s no fire? Michael Jefferson, Danville Fire Department’s Battalion Chief for Emergency Medical Services, says the reason is response time. Because the department can dispatch fire trucks from seven locations located throughout the city, its trained First Responders can reach the scene of an emergency in an average of just 4.5 minutes.

Help begins with 911 Dispatch, which also is part of the fire department. The operator identifies the address and nature of the emergency and then, using a Computer Aided Dispatch system, sends calls to the First Responders. If the emergency is life threatening, for example, if it involves respiratory arrest or a heart attack, a fire truck is immediately underway. Simultaneously, 911 Dispatch alerts the Danville Life Saving Crew or if the Crew is over-extended, Regional One Emergency Medical Services.

With a mission to provide the best possible pre-hospital care, Danville’s First Responders see themselves as an interconnected team. In non-life threatening situations, only an ambulance is necessary. On the other hand, sometimes police are needed to secure the scene before the First Responders can begin their work. Whatever is necessary, the goal is to work as one system with each first-response team operating within its own circle of responsibility.

The fire department’s First Responders provide immediate first aid such as CPR and oxygen. One of the newest additions is equipment that allows them to send cardiac information to the hospital; when patients arrive at Danville Regional Medical Center, they can go directly to the cardiac catheterization department instead of going through the emergency room. The time saved could be life changing.

Once the Life Saving Crew arrives, the senior member of the team is in charge of the situation. The Crew member with the highest level of medical training attends to the patient and others assist. According to Steve Parrish, a former Chief of the Crew, all responders have to be prepared for every possible kind of situation from drowning to fire or entrapment; everything is “normal.” On the other hand, individuals develop different kinds of expertise; therefore, the First Responders are always grateful to see a specialist such as a jaws-of-life operator to assist with removing a victim trapped in a vehicle or a paramedic who can administer advanced cardiac care.

One of the most difficult aspects of responding to an emergency is getting to the scene. Drivers often panic when they see a fire truck or ambulance. Many times noises and radios hide even the loudest sirens, so when drivers see an emergency vehicle, they have too little time to think what to do. Drivers are supposed to clear the left lane; unfortunately, the Life Saving Crew has encountered many that move left instead of right and some even stop. One new advantage is that the fire department and Life Saving Crew have equipment that causes traffic lights to change to green as they approach. Nevertheless, driving to emergency scenes is so hazardous that one person in the cab of the response vehicle must monitor the traffic. Despite the frustrations and stresses of emergencies, what all First Responders remember most are seeing smiles and hearing thank you. Knowing that they have helped is the reward they value. For the community, seeing the fire trucks and rescue vehicles is a blessing. Help has arrived.

What should family members or bystanders do to help in an emergency?

  • Remain calm.
  • Send someone to the street to flag down the First Responders.
  • Turn on the porch light and blink it off and on.
  • Make a list of information about each member of the household and post it on the refrigerator today. List:person’s name, age, address, telephone numbers and insurance.
  • Most importantly, include medications: the generic or brand names, times taken, dosages
  • Designate one person only to communicate with the EMTs.

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