I sat in the Captains seat, palms and fingers cradling my head, willing my heart rate to slow down. Once I got control of that, I figured the dizziness would stop. The patient on the stretcher droned on about wanting an IV, wanting a blanket, wanting something, I don't know, I wasn't able to hear her.
We had arrived at her residence at the same moment that my radio started the transmissions that will last in my head long after I leave the EMS division of The Providence Fire Department.
"Expedite that rescue, CPR in progress…"
"Any rescue to clear…"
"Rescue 5, are you available?…"
"Negative, on scene with a patient…"
"Rescue 3, are you available?…"
"Negative, transporting to Rhode island Hospital…"
"Ladder 3 to Fire Alarm, CPR in progress, Providence Police officer involved…"
"Roger Ladder 3, we have mutual aid responding…"
"Rescue 6, your status?…"
"Transporting to Fatima…"
"Any Rescue to clear…"
The transmissions continued. My head kept spinning. My patient kept right on complaining. When we arrived at her house, her daughter had stuck her head out of the second floor window and told us "she can't walk." As soon as I entered their apartment, the patient stood up, and said "get me out of here!" and headed for the door. Her son, who looked to be about thirty years old yelled after her, "Where's my medications!" and the window yeller looked on, then said, "she needs to go to a nursing home, she hasn't changed her clothes in a week!"
and the radio went on…
"Ladder 1 with a Cranston Rescue, respond to Crossroads for an assault in the lobby…"
"Engine 3, respond to 99 Kennedy Plaza with an East Providence rescue for an intoxicated male…"
"Engine 13, respond with a Cranston Rescue to Roger Williams Park for an intoxicated male…"
and the lady on the stretcher kept on complaining.
and my head kept on spinning.
and it hasn't stopped.
I've been banging my head against a wall for years. Nobody listens, nobody cares. A good cop dies while our six rescues continue to be used as taxi's for the homeless and street sweepers for the city. Just remember, if you ever need us, when seconds count, we'll be minutes away, or not available at all.
Providence Journal, 2007
When Seconds Count….
When disaster strikes, illnesses arise or accidents happen in the City of Providence help is only a 911 call away. Or is it? Far too often when a rescue is needed there is nobody to send. Providence’s six Advance Life Support Rescues simply cannot handle the volume of calls generated by the people living in and visiting Providence. Responding to an emergency in a timely fashion is critical. Tragically, here in the Renaissance City, when seconds count, help is often minutes away. Surrounding cities and towns fill the gaps in coverage with mutual aid agreements, but due to a lack of reciprocation that safety net is eroding.
Each of Providence’s six advanced life support rescues handle nearly five thousand emergency calls a year, far above the national average. Cranston, East Providence, Johnston and Pawtucket routinely send their rescue crews into Providence when needed. Providence, the biggest city in Rhode Island and second largest in New England does not have the resources to repay the favor. Smithfield, Lincoln, Cumberland, Warwick, Central Falls; all send rescues to Providence. Are the taxpayers of those communities paying to subsidize Providence’s irresponsibility? What are these communities getting in return? Not much.
A progressive fire department, properly funded has a responsibility to the public it protects. Emergency Medical Services are the most used aspect of the fire service. Many departments report upwards of eighty percent of their calls are emergency medical responses. The cities and towns surrounding Providence have properly staffed their departments to handle the need:
- Warwick, population 87,233* 4 Rescues
- Cranston, population 81,617* 4 Rescues
- East Providence, population 49, 515* 3 Rescues
- Providence, population 176,862* 5 Rescues
In 2006 Providence added a sixth rescue to help address the mutual aid problem. The truck operates on a temporary basis and has no assigned personnel, using overtime to fill the seats. While the number of mutual aid calls into Providence from surrounding communities did decrease slightly, it did nothing to improve working conditions, morale or number of calls responded to by the firefighters assigned to the rescue division. Most days the city’s six rescues run non-stop. Experience in the field is invaluable. You just can’t teach a person lessons learned in the street. All of the knowledge and experience doesn’t do much good if the person in possession of such life saving skills no longer serves on the rescue.
The stress of the job has taken its toll on the Providence Fire Department’s Rescue Division. Qualified Rescue Officers have given up their rank, handed in their bars and left the division, leaving the positions vacant. In their place, inexperienced firefighters have volunteered as acting officers on the rescue trucks. While they have performed better than anybody has the right to expect, the loss of leadership is palpable. Morale is at an all time low, firefighters who would rather be fighting fires, some with decades of firefighting experience are sent to the rescue division to act as rescue technicians. Some crews have an acting officer with five years experience in charge of a rescue with a technician who has twenty years on the job. The calls are non-stop, the crews deal with the situation the best they can.
Twelve people manning six rescues in a city of 180,000 is woefully inadequate by anybody’s standards. The dozen medics on call manage to provide Emergency Medical Services to the people of Providence in an efficient, professional manner when they are available. Their lack of availability is the issue.
Michael Morse is a Lieutenant with the Providence Fire Department, and author of Rescuing Providence