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May 3, 2014

County fire departments to receive national award for EMS program

The Cullman County Association of Volunteer Fire Departments has won a national award for launching a new EMS program for first responders that has become a model for the entire state.

The association will accept the Excellence in Fire Service-based EMS award Thursday at the 26th Annual National Fire & Emergency Services Dinner in Washington, D.C. The Congressional Fire Service Institute/ MedicAlert Foundation chose the local volunteer firefighter association  for its innovative EMS training program out of departments from all across the United States.

After the Alabama Fire College changed requirements for first responders, local fire departments were looking for a way to certify its personnel in emergency medical skills, said Joe Golden, president of the association and Gold Ridge Fire Chief. In 2011, firefighters came across a nationally-recognized EMS training program that wasn’t being implemented by the state.

“We talked to the state about it, and they allowed us to start a pilot program and begin holding training classes,” Golden said. “Seventy-five percent of our calls for service is medical calls, so we wanted to find a way to keep our first responders certified and up to date on the hands-on medical skills they need to help people.”

The Alabama Department of Public Health’s Office of EMS created the new certification Emergency Medical Responder (EMR) based in part on the success of the pilot program, said Jeff Byars, the association’s EMS Officer and EMS Captain at Bethsadia Volunteer Fire Department.

He estimated around a third of all certified EMRs in Alabama are in Cullman County, 51 in all locally. A bulk of those work for the Crane Hill Volunteer Fire Department, he said. Just this week, all four local firefighters — two from Bethsadia, one from Good Hope and one from Jones Chapel — passed the EMR exam, he said.

“We started at 100 percent of the EMRs in the state, but of course, as more and more people have gone through the training, it’s gone down because the pool has gotten larger,” Byars said. “But that’s a good thing because more people are getting the certification.”

Golden said the EMR designation is especially beneficial for rural places like Cullman County because becoming a licensed emergency medical technician (EMT) requires college classes that can cost thousands of dollars a semester.

“It’s just $150 per person for the EMR training,” Golden said. “I think there was some concern EMTs wouldn’t renew their certification because of the new requirements, so this way they can still be certified and have essentially the same hands-on emergency medical skills needed at the scene.”

Byars and Golden agreed that when most people think about firefighters, they think about people running into burning buildings, but there’s more to the job than that.

“There are a lot of other things that someone can do for their local volunteer fire department,” Byars said. “If you want to help out and serve your community, contact your local fire department.”

Tiffeny Owens can be reached by email at towens@cullmantimes.com or by phone at 256-734-2131, ext. 135.

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