Sunday, November 28, 2021

The Big Red Truck



I’m biased. I’m biased because of what happened to me on December 7, 2008. On that anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day I collapsed and began losing blood… lots of blood, as I later learned. My wife called 911 and, within a few (very few) minutes there were people and machines at the front door. In a couple of more minutes those dedicated folks had checked whatever vital signs I had left, started pumping something into me, and then put me on a stretcher and lugged me down two flights of very steep stairs at our condo. There was no way to get a gurney up and down and through the doorway, and it took six rather large guys to get me down those stairs. Within a few more minutes they had me at the ER. I had already lost 40% of my blood. Those wonderful people, including Marco Island EMS, firefighters and police, saved my life. They do it every day in our area.

Marco Island’s fire district was created by the Florida legislature in 1965. Ten years later Ed Moulton became Marco Island’s first paid firefighter. Since its infancy the department has grown modestly, especially in relation to the island’s population growth. The administrative staff has been reduced to a trim five, as the city has concentrated on line personnel for all public safety. The workload is increasing substantially. In the first three months of 2010, there were 200 more calls than the first three months of 2009. Over the course of a year Marco Island can expect between 2,500 and 3,000 calls.

All Marco Island firefighters are either EMT or paramedic trained. In 2009, medical incidents were, by far, the highest in all response categories demonstrating the wisdom of the intensive training.

Through the years the fire department has responded to an extraordinary number of varied and significant events, in addition to the “normal” workload affecting residents and visitors. Here are just a few:

  • Hurricanes Andrew, Charley and Wilma
  • The No Name Storm
  • O’Shea’s fire
  • The 1998 wildfires
  • Aircraft crashes
  • Island Princess accident – 23 miles out
  • Goodland Lodge fire
  • Yacht Club fire
  • San Marco Residences fire
  • A boat crash with four fatalities

Residents may also remember the

Fire Fighter EMT Chris Bowden proudly shows the Jaws of Life. The department also has acquired a TIC, or Thermal Imager Camera. Photo by Jeane Brennan

Fire Fighter EMT Chris Bowden proudly shows the Jaws of Life. The department also has acquired a TIC, or Thermal Imager Camera. Photo by Jeane Brennan

firefighters washing down the transformers in the aftermath of Wilma so that electrical power could continue to be provided.

From time-to-time someone asks why the Big Red Truck shows up on medical calls, and why the medical truck shows up on fire calls. In the first place, the truck contains medical equipment. When a 911 call comes in… oops, here I have to digress to relay a true Marco Island story, I am not making this up… about a year or so ago a visitor called to ask for “the emergency number for 911”! “Ma’am, it’s 911”…

What happens when a 911 call is made? The receiving operator (through a series of short questions), determines what the emergency might be. Using a sophisticated computer system, a decision is made on which personnel and equipment are sent. EMS vehicles have two onboard; fire trucks normally have three. All of them are trained to deal with fire and/or medical emergencies. There’s no time to waste. Heart damage, brain damage, bleeding and other effects can be prevented or minimized only through prompt and professional action. A medical emergency can be the initial reason for the 911 call, or the medical emergency can be precipitated by a fire or other event. In some cases patients have to be borne down stairs on a stretcher or backboard; in high rises or smashed automobiles, or second stories of homes or condos, having adequate personnel on hand saves lives by getting victims out quickly and properly.

Collier County established a standard of four people responding to these calls. In some cases a police officer will be dispatched as well if there is an injury without a known cause.

What’s the cost of dispatching the Big Red Truck in response to a call? It’s very small. Essentially it is the cost of diesel fuel to travel a few miles. Maintenance and depreciation costs are already factored in, and personnel are already on duty. Chief Mike Murphy emphasizes that it’s far preferable to have our professionals available in the area so they can take care of any problems, rather than waiting at the station house.

Yes, my bias is showing. (Full disclosure: I am a member of the Board of the Fire-Rescue Foundation).

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