Twenty fire department emergency medical technicians and two Park Police technicians last week received intermediate paramedic (IP) certificates from Mayor Marion S. Barry, after completing a six-week life support course at the Washington Hospital Center.
The new class nearly doubles the number of fire department staff who can operate the District's four specially equipped advanced life support ambulances (ALS), explains Maurice D. Kilby, chief of emergency ambulance service. Funds to train paramedics to operate fire department ambulances have become available to the District for the first time in five years.
The funds were made available through a Council of Governments training grant several years ago, but were held until the city budgeted $150,000 to pay overtime employes while the paramedics were being trained.
The fire department's 22 paramedics plus the new IP's are able to monitor heart attack patients, give medications ordered by physicians and insert intravenous needles. Thirteen basic life support (BLS) ambulances still will be operated by the department's remaining 95 emergency medical technicians who perform basic life support skills such as stopping bleeding and give cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
The newly trained paramedics admit that they decided to take the course because it is the best way to advance in the ambulance service. "I'm tired of being on the basic ambulance and being able to do more," explains John H. Proper. "Now we have twice as much knowledge."
Proper says nothing can match the feeling he gets when he leaves a patient sitting up in a hospital bed who was unconscious and without a heartbeat when he first arrived at the scene. "I love it," he says enthusiastically.
The course coordinator, Midge Moreau, a nurse at the Hospital Center's shock trauma unit, is equally enthusiastic about the dedication of her students. She says she is looking forward to training a second group of IPs in the fall. The contract with the hospital is for $30,000 to teach two classes.
Kilby says the city has a total of 16 usable ambulances, only three of which are ALS. He says he hopes to get three new fully equipped ambulances and 32 additional personnel with money Mayor Barry has set aside for that purpose in the fiscal 1982 budget.
Those three additional vehicles will "cut our response time from 8.2 minutes to about 5 minutes," Kilby predicts. however, he says, "to give the city adequate service, every unit I have would be a paramedic unit. We could easily use five or 10 more."
Those emergency vehicles answer 90,000 calls a year, the fire department reports. A major factor in the over-taxing of the ambulance service is that the public does not understand what constitutes an emergency, Kilby believes. He adds that with the closing of public health clinics in the city and a shortage of health dollars, people with no money call the city's free ambulance. "We become a taxi service."