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Published: October 03, 2008 05:30 am ShareThisPrintThis
Take-home gear gives EMTs more practice time on vital signs
By Mike Stucka
Staff Writer

TOPSFIELD - The basic tools to check vital signs will soon make it into many Topsfield neighborhoods, potentially making firefighters better prepared to quickly answer emergencies.
Selectmen on Monday cleared the way for a $895 purchase of 30 blood pressure cuffs and stethoscopes, which will be issued to Topsfield firefighters to take home. Monday's unanimous decision reverses the town accountant and administrator's hesitancy to give town-owned equipment to employees.
The Topsfield Fire Department's latest emergency medical technician, David Ahern, graduated yesterday, while the department's only firefighters who haven't finished EMT training are in school now, said Jenifer Collins-Brown, the department's emergency medical services coordinator.
Collins-Brown said the move to improve EMTs' ability to check basic vital signs was flagged during a training session in February, leading fire Chief Ronald Giovannacci to write in a memo that "employees struggled with timely and accurate" vital-sign checks. Patients' health was never compromised, said Collins-Brown, who said the issue is less of training than of practice. The firefighters can now practice at home on friends and family members.
"I don't want to give the impression at all that they're not trained or competent, but we want them to maintain their skills, competence and confidence," Collins-Brown said yesterday.
Selectmen backed the proposal so firefighters, most of whom serve on a "call" basis, could both practice and help more quickly in emergencies, said Town Administrator Virginia Wilder.
"If a call came in their neighborhood, they'd be able to have some equipment they could use," Wilder said.
Wilder said the blood pressure cuffs and stethoscopes will remain town property, which firefighters would have to maintain and be responsible for. The equipment would be returned to the town when a firefighter quits the department. That rule overcomes earlier concerns from Wilder and the town accountant that town equipment would be given to employees.
Another benefit: A one-time buy of the equipment would cost $895. Other options included paying employees to attend monthly rounds at Beverly Hospital, adding another monthly hour of training or paying for employees to attend a simulation lab. Each of those options costs thousands of dollars more.
The fire department's more advanced medics are sent to simulation labs to work on rare but important procedures, such as inserting a breathing tube. Collins-Brown said some are also getting more practice intubating dogs and especially cats, with permission of veterinarians and the animals' owners. The pets, who are intubed while under anesthesia for spaying or neutering, have airways similar to children's, she said.
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