Penhold’s volunteer fire department has become a provincial leader.
The 35-strong department has become the first volunteer fire department in the province that can respond as emergency medical technicians without the presence of ambulances.
It is an important achievement in Penhold, which does not have a locally based ambulance and volunteer firefighters are almost always first on the scene, said Fire Chief Jim Pendergast.
About half a dozen of the department’s volunteers are trained as emergency medical technicians and one is a registered nurse.
While the level of training of individual volunteer firefighters varies, many departments only offer basic first aid as a policy.
All of Penhold’s firefighters are trained to at least the next level — emergency medical responder.
In Penhold, EMT-trained firefighters have been cleared to administer certain medications and start intravenous drips.
They are working to get cleared to provide naloxone, a drug that is used in overdose cases.
“We’ve been through a pilot project with Alberta Health Services over the last three years ending last year,” he said.
This past January, the department’s new status was officially approved.
To make the transition, Penhold firefighters were trained to meet certain protocols and to fill out patient care reports under the tutelage of a doctor appointed by Alberta Health Services.
If only EMR-trained firefighters are on scene, they provide only that level of care.
But when EMT-level firefighters are at the scene the department can now offer a higher level of treatment.
Pendergast is proud of the level of commitment his volunteers have shown.
“All of our firefighters had to take their EMR training and their EMT training at their own cost,” he said, adding training bills run into the thousands.
“To have them step and do that is so awesome.”
Some had to take out student loans to cover the cost of the more advanced training.
Another first for the department was its use of an Alberta Health Services portal to file patient care reports online. Even large fire departments, such as Red Deer’s, are only just starting to adopt the new filing system.