Chief Stephen Kovalcik announced today that Greenville City Fire Department (GCFD) has been licensed by the South Carolina Department of Health & Environmental Control (DHEC) as an EMT Rapid Responder Agency. This designation means GCFD provides medical care at the EMT (emergency medical technician) level and meets strict standards for emergency service care. The license is valid for two years, although DHEC conducts random inspections during the two-year period to ensure that certain criteria are being met. For example, as a Rapid Responder agency, GCFD must respond with at least one EMT to 80% of its calls. Additionally, GCFD must ensure that a unit with at least one EMT responds to all medical calls within five minutes. The license also dictates the type of medications and medical equipment that GCFD carries on its vehicles, including automatic external defibrillator (AED) units. While not specifically required, as an added measure, GCFD will utilize AEDs that feature real-time chest compression feedback and the ability to collect data after the cardiac arrest.
In 2012, GCFD began requiring that all firefighter candidates either be an EMT or complete EMT training within the first year of employment. There are now 61 EMTs on staff, enabling GCFD to deploy an EMT from every fire station on all three shifts. According to Chief Kovalcik, this high-quality training is critical as fire departments have evolved into multifaceted agencies that provide a myriad of emergency services to the community, beyond traditional fire suppression. A survey by the National Fire Protection Association showed that in 2016, approximately 64% of total fire department calls nationwide were for medical emergencies rather than fires. Of GCFD’s approximately 7,300 calls a year, half are medical calls.
Considered the new standard, many fire departments are working to expand their ability to respond to medical emergencies as this area’s explosive growth continues to place a strain on community agencies’ resources. In 2017, through its Healthy Greenville initiative, Greenville Health Authority Board of Trustees awarded a four-year $2.5 million grant to a coalition comprised of the Greenville Health System (GHS) Department of Emergency Medicine, the Greenville County Fire Chiefs’ Association, the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office and the GHS Health Sciences Center to provide standardized training for firefighter first responders across Greenville County and add lifesaving defibrillators to hundreds of deputy patrol cars. The scope of the grant includes equipping and training 266 deputies with AEDs; offering EMT training courses conducted by GHS for fire departments working to reach DHEC’s Basic Life Support (BLS) Rapid Responder level; offering a continuing education program to enable the departments to maintain their certifications and providing equipment to agencies starting a BLS Rapid Responder program.
According to Chief Kovalcik, becoming a Rapid Responder agency is evidence of GCFD’s commitment to providing the highest level of service and dedication to rendering lifesaving medical care sooner. “As true first responders, our ability to have an EMT on board our vehicles means we’re able to assess a victim’s condition and provide basic life support immediately, rather than them having to wait for EMS to arrive,” said Kovalcik. “We hope it’s reassuring to those who live, work and visit here that they are in extremely capable hands and that we are proactively working to shape the fire service’s changing role in our community.”