Feb. 25–At a touch of a button and with the ease of a person sliding a cereal bowl from a cabinet, the Westminster fire company’s Lt. Brett Pearce removed the brand-new Stryker Power Load System stretcher from the back of an ambulance and wheeled it around in front of the crowd gathered in the volunteer fire company’s vehicle bay Wednesday.
Westminster Public Safety Chairman and Councilman Tony Chiavacci had joined fire company staff Wednesday afternoon to witness this demonstration of the latest technology deployed by the fire company in an effort to not only save patients’ lives, but to safeguard the health of those paramedics and firefighters who volunteer to do so. According to Pearce, about half of the line of duty retirements for emergency medical services workers annually are due to back injuries.
“Paramedics end up losing their careers because of back injuries, lifting and carrying people out of homes,” he said. “With one finger, we can lower [the stretcher]. … You’re not beating your knees up. You’re not beating your back up.”
The stretcher gave a slight whir as it crouched low on its slender but powerful black and yellow legs as it would for loading a patient, and as Pearce pressed another button, it raised up again, capable of lifting up to 700 pounds. When positioned at the rear of the ambulance, two arms lift it level with the vehicle floor, its legs collapse and Pearce was able to slide it inside as if putting away linens.
“That’s amazing,” Chiavacci said, inspecting the lean frame of the device. “It sounds like RoboCop.”
The City of Westminster was instrumental in helping the fire company acquire three of the new powered stretchers, contributing $60,000 of the total cost of $102,000 — about $35,000 per ambulance. The units can be transferred to new units as older vehicles are retired.
“It’s a good use of money. There are a tremendous amount of volunteers that work here at this fire company and all around the county that save the taxpayers a tremendous amount of money by volunteering their time,” Chiavacci said in an interview. “Anything we can do to help alleviate injuries they would receive on the job, which is exactly what this machine does, we certainly want to do.”
The Westminster fire company is one of the busiest in the state, according to Public Information Officer Kevin Dayhoff, having run 5,743 EMS calls in 2015. That’s in excess of 1,000 more calls than the 4,731 the fire company ran in 2010.
And for almost every EMS call, a paramedic is lifting a stretcher in and out of an ambulance at least twice. There’s not always the time or opportunity to lift with the proper form for a dead lift.
“There’s been times when we have had to drop our other cots to the floor in order to get a patient on it,” said Kim Royer, a paramedic with the fire company present at the demonstration Wednesday. “Trying to get that up from the floor with a patient on it? I know for some of us, it’s very awkward.”
Less-awkward lifting means fewer injuries to firefighters and paramedics, according to Pearce, and fewer injuries means more people working, working for longer before retiring and being there for people when they need help in emergencies.
“Paramedic and firefighters are very hard to come by now, especially here in this county — we don’t have the volunteers that we used to,” he said. “Ultimately, this is a benefit not only to the people that work here, but all the citizens and visitors of Westminster.”
Even as the new Stryker Power Load System stretchers will make it safer and faster to load patients in and out of ambulances, another new technology is improving care inside emergency vehicles.
The LUCUS mechanical chest compression system is a compact device that provides CPR chest compressions faster, steadier, for longer and more effectively than any human being, according to Pearce, improving the likelihood of survival for someone experiencing a cardiac event.
The $14,000 LUCUS device was purchased with the help of a $5,000 public safety grant from Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., according to Dayhoff, and was first deployed in January.
Lightweight and easy to deploy, the LUCUS not only applies more consistent and effective CPR for patients, but according to Royer, frees up EMS staff to focus on other necessary interventions and allows staff to do more with fewer people available to help.
“It helps when we are short staffed,” she said. “We can concentrate more on administering medication, watching the monitor.”
Having a machine available that can provide constant CPR support also makes an ambulance ride, with turns and stops taken with urgency, much safer for EMS workers, according to Laura Tyler, EMS captain at the Westminster fire company.
“It eliminates someone standing up and attempting to do compressions while we’re driving,” Tyler said. “A lot of times they will grab a hold of the bar we have in there so they can kind of hold on, but then you are not giving consistent compressions.”
For Tyler, the LUCUS device ultimately means patients will get the best support they can get during a long ambulance ride. The other benefits are ancillary.
“I am patient outcome-focused,” she said. “It’s invaluable. If it saves one person’s
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