When Seconds Count

 

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

*(2005 Census)

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.

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