Chapter Twenty Four: First on the scene
When the radio rasped on May 8 with the report of an overturned truck, the firefighters from the Secaucus Volunteer Fire Department didn=t think twice about what they had to do. They had been through such situations so many times, they just jumped onto the vehicles and headed out.
With so many highways, county and service roads crisscrossing Secaucus, emergencies like this have become an unfortunate routine for the fire department, which is largely responsible for rescue efforts, often arriving immediately behind the police at the scene of an accident.
In fact, the fire department has agreements with various state agencies to handle the roadways, covering all of County Avenue, Secaucus Road, Paterson Plank Road and both sides of Route 3 from one end of Secaucus to the other. The fire department also has an agreement with the New Jersey Turnpike Authority to handle such emergencies along the stretch of road from the Vince Lombardi service area near Exit 18 to the border of Bayonne at Exit 15 on the eastern spur.
On this morning, the overturned truck was a turnpike accident, and two units rolled out of Secaucus to the scene, the first emergency rescue vehicles to arrive. As they were, after the police, during the Feb. 9, 1996, train crash, and for the Amtrak derailment eight months later.
Often, as in the case of the overturned truck and the train collision, firefighters are the first to confront the moaning and groaning of injured accident victims.
Many of the Secaucus firefighters have EMT training, and some have worked on ambulance crews in the past. Fire Chief Ronald Kosky Jr. and town officials, however, decided this was not enough. To increase the number of firefighters with first-aid skills, the town is putting 17 firefighters through a 60-hour course called "First Responder," which gives firefighters the basic information they need to handle accident victims.
AThis project has been ongoing in North Hudson for a while,@ said John Reilly, the town council=s liaison to the fire department. AWhile we try and upgrade the training on our members, in this case, we saw a need to provide the community with this service.@
Although 60 hours of instruction is normally conducted in a single multi-week session, officials decided to break the program in two, with the first half starting in April and the second in October.
"We found that it would be very hard on these men to give this to them all at once," said John Maimone, one of three instructors involved in the program.
The initial lessons included advanced first aid and CPR instruction. But by the time these firefighters get through the whole program, they will qualify in many areas of emergency response training, and will know the regulations and procedures on what to do in most emergencies.
And indeed, in the middle of this first series of lessons, when the two fire companies responded to the overturned truck on the Turnpike, they did encounter injuries, and many of the lessons began to make sense.
"The men who responded to the situation found themselves using some of the things they learned," said Lt. Robert Santore of Hose Company No. 1.
This training will lead to state certification in emergency procedures and will enable firefighters to work hand in hand with EMTs.
"This isn't only a matter of our people arriving first,@ Reilly said. "But it allows us to have many more people on the scene who are trained in emergency procedures."
Reilly said this would not replace regular medical service, but would give residents an extra layer of protection.
The fire department can also be called in during those times when the ambulance <197> which is stationed at town hall <197> has already gone out on a call.
AWhile the town has a provision in its contract with the Jersey City Medical Center to provide a second ambulance, our trained firefighters can respond to the scene until the second ambulance arrives. In that way, our people can start to implement medical attention until the EMTs arrive, and then help the EMTs after they are on the scene.@
Reilly said it was important that as many people on accident scenes as possible be medically trained, since someone not trained could cause additional damage to an accident victim.
AIf someone has a broken leg and you move that person the wrong way, you could cause more damage,@ Reilly said.
Secaucus, he said, has numerous traffic accidents since it has so many roads, and he sees frequent use of the fire department in aiding the EMTs.
AThe more hands the better,@ said Maimone. AYou can never have enough qualified people on the scene, and the firefighters trained in these procedures can be very helpful in an emergency situation.@
When the firefighters complete the second half of training, they will have the necessary training to provide temporary but proper emergency treatment to handle most medical emergencies. This training includes hands on instruction with emergency equipment and various emergency procedures: how to control bleeding, dress a wound and treat shock, allergic reactions, nosebleeds, chemical burns and seizures.
This program, combined with the new enhanced 911 service, can provide an even better treatment for people on an accident scene. Recently, the police department has begun routing calls to trained EMT dispatchers who can give instructions as to what treatment should be started before the ambulance gets to the hospital, saving time and, very likely, lives by eliminating delays.
AThe enhanced 911 allows the EMT to begin treatment en route to the hospital, and First Responder allows us to provide extra medically trained people on the scene,@ Reilly said.