Recently, an article was posted about a group of Prince George County, MD firefighters who violated policy and transported a child in cardiac arrest to the hospital in their fire engine with what was described as “limited medical supplies” instead of waiting for an ambulance that was less than five minutes away. The child, who was reportedly having an asthma attack, arrested in front of the crew. The paramedic who was on scene made the decision to start transporting in their fire truck after getting what can only be assumed was an unacceptable ETA of five minutes. According to the Prince George County Fire Department, the patient regained pulses prior to arrival at the emergency room.
The firefighters who were involved were not suspended without pay. Their medical control was not pulled. They do not even appear to have been reprimanded by their department. Instead, they have been given valor awards for their life saving actions that day.
First, I do not want to overlook the miracle that took place on this call. A life was saved albeit using very unconventional and potentially dangerous actions. Effective CPR was done, and the girl lived, without any residual neurological deficits. I give them credit for their care, but only to that extent. This does not mean, however, that these firefighters should not stand and explain their actions.
As I stated previously, the fire truck that was used on the call had limited medical equipment, and according to the press release, it was not one that was typically used for medical calls. This leads me to believe that the life-saving actions taken by the paramedic that day was effective CPR which could have been done just as well, if not better, on the patient’s living room floor until a transport capable unit arrived.
What about the large amount of departmental liability this crew put their employer under? The girl had no neurological deficits but if she came out of this with so much as a limp or maybe slurred speech, her family could have owned the entire department, and potentially taken that paramedic for everything he had because of what would have only been described as “gross negligence.”
This is not the first time a patient has been transported by fire truck or something other than an ambulance, and it will not be the last, but the chief of PGFD is treading on dangerous grounds by treating his staff like he has. The next time transporting someone in a fire truck crosses someone’s mind, they’ll think “well, they were considered heroes, I have no reason to think we will not be regarded in the same light.” How could the next group of firefighters who “think outside the box” be held accountable for an unfavorable outcome after this group was so highly regarded?
Ultimately, what went wrong here was a staffing issue. The wrong type of vehicle was the one available. Does Prince George County need more ambulances available? Or maybe this station needs a backup ambulance that could have been available for this crew rather than a fire truck. A case such as this strengthens the argument for more ambulances globally, with primary providers responding rather than first responders getting there first, knowing what needs to be done, and not being able to do for a patient what they really need.
In the public’s eye, the line between being a hero and a zero is extremely thin, and this crew, in my opinion, got lucky. An unfavorable outcome would have changed their lives forever. Let’s just hope that this does not repeat itself, and that people around the country recognize it for what it really was: a lucky break, and a miracle.