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EDWARDS, Colo.—Aug. 4, 2020—Each year, wildfires are a threat to our community and state. When fires break out in forests and range-lands and threaten neighborhoods, firefighters are deployed to help combat the blaze. Now, a special team from Eagle County Paramedic Services (ECPS) will also be available when fires threaten the mountain region.
The Eagle County Paramedic Services wildland fire team consists of six ECPS paramedics who are specially trained to respond to medical or traumatic events in the wildland environment: Mike Gasell, Conor Moran, Chris Rauzi, Greg Sawyer, Joel Simonson and Aaron Zinser. Hank Bevington is serving as wildland fire supervisor. These paramedics received wildland training and certifications to serve on the line or from an ambulance that is equipped with specific tools and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to deploy for weeks at a time. Members of the Greater Eagle Fire Protection District and Eagle River Fire Protection District provided integral training for the ECPS wildland fire team with administrative guidance from Ryan McCully, battalion chief of the Colorado River Region of Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control.
“There’s a need for paramedics on the fire line due to the remoteness of these fires. Otherwise, access to immediate medical care can be far away,” said Joel Simonson who has served on wildland fire teams previously and spearheaded the training at ECPS. “Having a wildland fire team adds to our all-hazards approach to paramedicine and we can assist other departments in our response district. It’s good for our community, our county and for the wildland crews who are on the line.”
Wildland EMS paramedics work in tandem with firefighters and hotshot crews to help ensure the success of the overall operation by doing everything possible to ensure firefighters and support staff are at their best and as healthy as possible.
It also involves working in tough conditions. These line medics work 16 hours a day for 14 days straight when they’re at a fire. They’re prepared to camp for the entire shift and also carry provisions to be self-sustaining for three days. In addition to working with hand tools, learning how to cut a fire line, deploy fire shelters and more, these paramedics have successfully passed a pack test: walking three miles in 45 minutes or less carrying a 45-pound pack. All of this training and education leads to the paramedic or EMT being “red carded” – receiving the Interagency Incident Qualification Card.
“Adding additional capabilities from Eagle County Paramedic Services is a huge help to the wildfire community,” said McCulley. “As a firefighter myself, I really appreciate having those guys out there as line medics and as an ambulance that’s available…because the job is a dangerous job. It always made me feel better having those guys available—they’re professional paramedics and that’s who you want taking care of you if you get hurt. They’re much appreciated by all the guys on the ground.”
Because the wildland fire EMS group will be deploying from Eagle County, it means that response time to wildfire incidents in the mountain region can be greatly reduced. As of Aug. 3, ECPS can be deployed to locations across the state and perhaps even out of state if the need arises, providing medical care to those fighting the fires.
“We’re proud that we’re now able to offer wildland fire EMS services,” said Christopher Montera, CEO of Eagle County Paramedic Services. “It’s not only an amazing experience for our paramedics, but it expands our utility and what we offer as a service to our community.”
The ECPS wildland fire team is being utilized even more quickly than planned: Joel Simonson was deployed to the Pine Gulch fire in De Beque on Tuesday, Aug. 4.
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About Eagle County Paramedic Services
Eagle County Paramedic Services (ECPS) operates ambulances using five stations from Gypsum to Vail, with up to 13 ambulances providing 24-7, 365-day coverage. Last year, the Paramedic Services answered 5,900 calls from Vail Pass to Hanging Lake. ECPS transports people having medical emergencies, conducts community health services to underserved people in Eagle County and also conducts education and training programs. For more information about the district, visit eaglecountyparamedics.com or call 970-926-5270.
The board packet can be found at www.eaglecountyparamedics.com/board-meetings.
In the current pandemic, getting access to medical treatment is more important and more difficult than ever. But receiving good care doesn’t necessarily have to involve a trip to the emergency room. On March 13, Eagle County Paramedic Services (ECPS) launched a telemedicine program called Hippo Health designed to connect patients with their health care options beyond a hospital visit.
“We’ve been working on rolling out this telemedicine platform for months now,” said Chris Montera, CEO of Eagle County Paramedic Services. “The fact that it coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic was fortuitous timing.”
Hippo Health is an app that provides on-demand care for patients. Accessible via an app or Chrome web browser, Hippo Health has talk, text and video capabilities to connect users with paramedics and their local established clinics quickly and securely. The Hippo Health platform allows patients to talk to their doctor and their care team virtually, as well as allowing that care team to talk to other care teams in the community whether or not they have the electronic medical record or practice.
“It speeds up the process,” said Chris Marsh, paramedic and fleet coordinator at ECPS. “When someone calls 911, they give their name, phone number and date of birth. All we have to do is invite the patient on Hippo and we can connect with them right away. There’s even potential to video chat on our way.”
Eagle County residents can download the app for free before the need arises, further cutting response time. By utilizing the app, not only can paramedics talk to patients en route, but they can also help determine whether or not a trip to the emergency room is necessary, potentially reducing healthcare costs.
“Our goal is that we’re right outside of your door—we can connect with you and see you,” Montera said. “We can conduct a virtual assessment and determine how severe the illness is and make best recommendations for your health. Then, we can follow up the next day with the same program to see how you’re doing.”
Additionally, as Coronavirus continues to spread, the use of telemedicine technology like Hippo Health can help reduce the risk of exposure to paramedics, too.
“This program can help protect paramedics and patients, to ensure we’re not exposing them unnecessarily to COVID-19,” said Kevin McGarvey, MD, CEO at Hippo Health. “We’re keeping them safe and working to keep care professionals healthy in our workforce.”
Hippo Health is also available for use by doctors and other health care providers in Eagle County as it’s a county-wide response model. However, Eagle County Paramedic Services is the first organization to utilize the program. Hippo Health will be offering the platform for unlimited use to any county across Colorado.
To download the free app to be prepared it is needed, visit hippohealth.com/eaglecounty.
Emergency Medical Services, more commonly known as EMS, is an essential public service. You can easily recognize EMS when you see ambulances and medical helicopters responding to incidents in our community, but EMS is much more than emergency medical response and transport. EMS is part of an intricate system of agencies and organizations; communications and transportation networks; trauma systems, as well as hospitals, trauma centers, and specialty care centers; rehabilitation facilities; and highly trained professionals —including volunteer and career prehospital personnel, physicians, nurses, therapists, administrators, government officials and an informed public that knows what to do in a medical emergency. Each player in the EMS system has an essential job to perform as part of a coordinated system of care. —Adapted from NHTSA