Firefighters no longer allowed to assist paramedics by driving ambulances

Published: Feb. 14, 2012 at 10:52 PM HST|Updated: Feb. 14, 2012 at 11:56 PM HST
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Patty Dukes, city Emergency Medical Services chief
Patty Dukes, city Emergency Medical Services chief
Capt. Terry Seelig, Honolulu Fire Department
Capt. Terry Seelig, Honolulu Fire Department

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - For decades, Honolulu firefighters have been jumping into the driver's seat of an ambulance when paramedics have needed the extra hands while transporting a patient to the hospital. That practice came to abrupt end Friday.

EMS workers are fielding calls for service and dispatching ambulance units to the various scenes. But now, they have an additional thing to consider -- the fact that Honolulu firefighters have put the brakes on their long-standing practice of assisting paramedics by driving ambulances during critical cases.

"It's a change," Patty Dukes, city Emergency Medical Services chief, said. "Paramedics and EMTs are used to improvising when they have to and switching gears. We'll do it and the patients are going to be served. They'll maintain that level of care that they deserve."

An ambulance normally has two medics on board. Authorities say certain cases -- such as a bad traffic crash or a cardiac arrest -- demand that both of them be in the back tending to the patient while someone else drives to the hospital.

"You're doing compressions and it's time for a drug dose, you can't stop compressions to put the drugs because you're going to lose everything you had," Dukes said. "So it's quite a juggling match, especially when somebody is having a hard time breathing."

HFD officials say firefighters will no longer get behind the wheel of an ambulance until EMS can establish a vehicle operations training program for them. They say firefighters have been involved in ambulance collisions and there's the issue of liability.

"There are attributes to ambulances that we don't find in our regular apparatus that we would need to have instruction and make sure that the guys are familiar with," Capt. Terry Seelig, Honolulu Fire Department, said.

EMS officials say they're adjusting response configurations and staffing requirements to meet the patient transport needs.

A firefighter may still lend a hand in the back of an ambulance if that ride doesn't take away from HFD's staffing.

"Our primary responsibility, though, is to respond to emergencies that we're the only ones that respond to them -- fires, HAZMAT calls, rescue calls in the mountains," Seelig said. "We can't be taking our fire companies out of service waiting for members to return."

Copyright 2012 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.