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Oxford Fire Department increases medical training for firefighters

With two or three ambulances covering all of Lafayette County, there are often times when there’s more need for medical assistance than there are ambulances available.

Oxford’s population almost doubles on home football game weekends. Other popular sporting events at FNC or the John Leslie Tennis Courts also often bring lots of visitors to town, not to mention popular community events like the Double Decker Arts Festival each April.

More people means more sick or injured people.

To help decrease the amount of time, someone having chest pains or stroke symptoms receives medical attention. The Oxford Fire Department is increasing medical training for all firefighters, who are often the first on the scene.

Oxford’s ambulance service is provided solely by Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi.

OFD has often responded to emergency medical calls at the request of EMS services to provide help to paramedics, and OFD responds to all vehicle rescue and extrication calls throughout Lafayette County through a formal agreement with the county to provide those services. Three ambulances run during the day and two operate at night. If one is transporting a patient from a nursing home to a hospital or from Baptist to The Med in Memphis, that leaves just one ambulance available at night.

City officials have received complaints over the last few years of people having to wait 20 minutes or more for an ambulance to arrive.

Emergency medical responder training was provided to all OFD firefighters from October through January, making all firefighters first responders, EMR, which is the basic level of emergency medical training.

“Based on increasing demand, and the fact Oxford was already responding to medical calls in some cases, the fire department recognized the need for uniform medical training and equipment to all fire companies to provide medical care or assistance to other agencies and the public,” said OFD Chief Mark Heath.

Last week, firefighters spent time cross-training with Baptist EMS ambulance services to help familiarize all personnel with ambulance operations, equipment and special procedures.

Under the formal First Responder Program, which is scheduled to begin in May, OFD firefighters will be dispatched along with EMS to five types of medical calls — wrecks with known injuries, chest pain, unresponsive patients, stroke symptoms and anytime an ambulance is unavailable.

“These are the situations where having someone there to help as fast as possible is crucial,” Heath said.

After an initial 90-day pilot period, Heath said OFD will conduct a quality assurance review to ensure needs are being met and make any adjustments as needed.

OFD acquires equipment

OFD has recently acquired trauma and medical jump bags, automatic external defibrillators and oxygen kits through the help of the Oxford Emergency Management Agency headed by Jimmy Allgood.

“The equipment will be placed on all fire department vehicles,” Heath said.

A Memorandum of Understanding is being drafted between Baptist and OFD to grant OFD firefighters the authority to operate as medical providers in line with state guidelines.

“As Oxford and Lafayette County are now the fastest-growing areas in the state of Mississippi, it has become necessary to ensure fire and medical services are enhanced and available for the citizens,” Heath said. “As a result, the fire department was seen as a means to help address growing demand for services, while ensuring there is no gap in coverage for emergency calls.”