Good morning —
Welcome to the second installment of our “How It Works” series. When I mentioned in the first email of the series that we’d likely be interrupted by other
announcements and updates due to this being our busy season, I hadn’t anticipated it taking quite as long as it has to get part two out. Unfortunately, our busy season has been busier than usual this
year, and in the interim, there have been several subjects I thought it more important to cover.
In my last email, I said the next installment would cover what you can expect when you call 911, so let’s dive into that.
First, and this may seem obvious, but experience shows it needs to be said—you absolutely must call 911, not try to reach the fire department via other methods. Whether someone may have a medical problem or think you see smoke, you have to call 911 to get
the fire department rolling. The station is unmanned and we don’t check voicemail every day. Neither of the association offices can provide emergency advice, nor should they be calling 911 for you
unless you’re physically in their office and plan to remain there until help arrives. In our experience, secondhand reports of smoke sightings and other emergencies are extremely difficult to deal
with, as they almost inevitably turn into a bad game of “telephone,” with the information we get confused by being filtered through multiple people’s understanding of what’s wrong. Finally, going to
the fire station in person will almost always delay your access to emergency assistance due to the station being, as previously mentioned, unmanned. However, if you don’t have cell service, the
station does have a 911 phone next to the end door that you can use to access emergency assistance. The most important advice we can
give you when it comes to any kind of emergency or potential emergency is do not hesitate to call 911. We understand that people are reluctant to get the
emergency response machinery in motion unnecessarily, but we absolutely want you to do that if you think there’s a chance we’re needed. Not sure if you’re really seeing smoke? We’d much rather get
called out to check, even if that means we drive around without finding anything, than only discover the fire once it’s gotten larger and harder to contain. Not sure if that sensation is chest pain
or indigestion? Please give us the opportunity to get you down the mountain, if that’s the best thing for you, before it turns into a life-or-death situation.
In this email, we’ll focus on medical emergencies. So what happens when you call 911?
First, the 911 operator asks a lot of questions about the nature of your emergency and your location—this is to ensure they’re calling out the right people
and giving those people as much information as they can about what they’re responding to. It’s vital that you stay on the phone with them until they tell you that you can hang up—there are few things
more frustrating, if not downright frightening, than for emergency services to lose contact with people needing help before that help has definitely found them. The job of the 911 operator, who we
call either Dispatch or 900 when communicating on the radio, is to act as a central hub for all communications during an emergency—they’re rockstars, maintaining communications with the caller, the
UC Health ambulance, law enforcement, the air ambulance, and us and ensuring that whatever resources we need are called out to assist. The first thing they do is get us rolling by paging us out. All
members of both Crystal Lakes and Red Feather Lakes VFDs carry pagers, and we’re all paged out simultaneously for any emergency in either district. This ensures that everyone on both departments
knows what’s going on and can respond quickly and effectively. We don’t all run on every call—everyone responds to all emergencies in their own district, and we auto-respond mutual aid to our
neighboring district for certain kinds of emergencies; for others, we don’t respond unless requested to assist—but we all need to know what’s going on.
When a medical call comes in for Crystal Lakes, the following things all happen immediately:
- Dispatch pages Crystal Lakes and Red Feather Lakes to respond, giving us an address and a basic idea of what’s wrong.
- Dispatch gets a UC Health ambulance started up the mountain.
- If the call appears to be serious enough that it may require transport by helicopter, Dispatch contacts Lifeline to determine if they’re able
to fly (moving on to other air ambulance companies if Lifeline is unavailable).
- Dispatch may also send law enforcement for motor vehicle accidents or if they feel that the situation calls for additional resources.
- All available EMTs from both departments respond directly to the scene (the address we were paged to) to make contact with the patient and
begin assessing what’s wrong and treating it within the scope of their training.
- Red Feather firefighters respond to their station to bring their ambulance to the scene.
- Crystal firefighters respond to our station to prepare our structure engine to respond. If an air ambulance is called, our engine will set up
a landing zone for the helicopter, ensuring the area is clear of hazards and clearly marked and standing by in case the helicopter has to make a hard landing or has some other mechanical
- Firefighters also prepare to bring our Support truck (which contains additional medical equipment over and above what the EMTs carry) to the
scene if either it or more responders are needed (to help with carry-out of a patient, for example).
- Crystal Special Duty Responders report to the intersection on 73C that will provide the quickest access to the scene and stage there to lead
in the Red Feather Lakes ambulance and then the UC Health ambulance if it arrives before Red Feather has left the scene with the patient. They also set up traffic control around the landing zone and
often around the scene, if it’s a busy area or we’ve narrowed the road considerably by parking our vehicles along it during our response.
When the EMTs arrive on scene, they’ll make contact with the patient and find out from them what’s going on, what their medical history is, and what
medications they’re on. We strongly advise that everyone have this information written down—it’s hard to remember what you (or worse, someone else) are taking when you’re not feeling well and/or
stressed out by a loved one not feeling well. Write it down now—then you have something you can just hand over to emergency responders if necessary. We recommend putting this medical information in a
well-marked envelope and sticking it to your refrigerator—that gives us a single, highly-visible place to look for it if you’re on your own when you need medical assistance and are unable for some
reason to give us this information verbally. (The department has red magnetic “File of Life” envelopes for this purpose that we hand out at our classes and events—ask us for one!) The EMTs also take
the patient’s vitals (blood pressure, oxygen levels, heart rate, breathing rate, glucose level, etc) and begin relaying that information through Dispatch to the responding ambulances. In addition, of
course, EMTs also provide treatment, controlling bleeding, splinting broken or possibly broken bones, administering oxygen and a few approved medications like epinephrine, and in serious cases,
beginning CPR and other life-saving measures. Their scope is limited by their training and the protocols set down for them by their managing physician, which can lead to some apparent contradictions
that people may find confusing. Significant and serious life-saving measures? Go for it. Removing a fishhook from someone’s hand? Not allowed.
Once the Red Feather Lakes ambulance arrives, the patient is moved into it, and it heads out to rendezvous either with the UC Health ambulance or with the
helicopter crew at the landing zone. At that point, our EMTs pass patient care to the paramedics and/or flight nurses, who do an additional assessment and determine whether the patient needs to be
taken to the hospital by ground or flown. Then the patient is transferred to either the UC Health ambulance or the helicopter and continues their journey to the hospital, and all Crystal and Red
Feather responders clean up and put away equipment, stand down, and go back to whatever we were doing before the pager went off.
It’s important to note that you, as the patient, have agency in this—as long as you’re mentally competent at that moment to make the decision, you have the
right to decide not to be transported. The EMTs/paramedics/flight nurses may advise against that decision, and I strongly recommend listening to them if they do—they’re giving you their trained and
educated read on the situation and only want what’s best for you. They’re not paid more if they transport you and have no reason to advocate for you to be hauled to the hospital if they don’t truly
believe it’s necessary. If you’re uncertain or leaning towards refusing transport, at least wait until you’ve discussed it with the crew from either UC Health or the air ambulance. There’s absolutely
no charge for the Red Feather ambulance (whether they transport you or not), and there will be no charge from UC Health or the helicopter unless you’re transported by them. Calling 911 gets you
access to people with medical training—it’s in your best interests to use that resource and listen to them.
Now that you know what happens when you call us with a medical emergency, perhaps you can better understand why you really want to call 911 rather than
driving yourself down the mountain. In my email about heart attacks, I talked about why you should call 911—you’ll get quicker care, you
won’t risk being someplace without cell service when your/your loved one’s condition worsens, and you avoid potentially getting into a traffic accident because you’re inevitably more focused on
your/your loved one’s medical emergency than your driving. But why do you want to call 911 as your first option, when the UC Health
ambulance has to come up from Fort Collins and you can surely get down the mountain in less time than it takes for them to come up and go back?
The truth is that there’s a lot more to this equation than just how long it takes to drive down. The most
important thing isn’t how quickly the patient reaches a hospital, it’s how quickly they start receiving medical care. If you drive your loved one down, the earliest they can start
receiving care is after they’ve arrive at the hospital and been assessed to get an idea of what’s wrong. If, however, you call 911…
- All Crystal and Red Feather EMTs carry AEDs (which can reset certain kinds of heart arrhythmias and stop some heart attacks) and oxygen
(obviously helpful if someone’s having trouble breathing, but it can also mitigate the effects of some medical problems that do not appear to be respiratory). They also carry and are approved to use
certain medications, like epinephrine and nebulizers, that can stop allergic reactions, help people breathe better, and so forth.
- The paramedics in the UCH ambulance carry heart monitors, so they can determine precisely what's going on if someone has chest pain and
provide targeted additional care. They have medications and equipment that can help mitigate the effects of a heart attack or start treatment of many other medical problems. They also have all
the good drugs to treat pain.
- Our EMTs can determine if the situation calls for the air ambulance and get it here quickly. It’s capable of getting to any hospital on the
Front Range a LOT faster than anyone can by car, not matter how much of a lead foot they have.
- Whether the patient is transported by UC Health or the air ambulance, the paramedics and flight nurses call ahead to the hospital, report the
patient's condition and vital signs, and get the necessary care team activated so there’s no delay in receiving expert care once the patient arrives at the hospital.
So calling 911 gets you quick care from EMTs (usually within fifteen minutes), then gets you started moving rapidly down the mountain to meet more
definitive care from paramedics, with expert care waiting and ready at the hospital. If something really serious is going on, calling 911 gets you an air ambulance, which will get you down to the
best hospital for what's going on with you, whether it’s in Ft Collins, Denver, or further afield, often within an hour. Whereas driving down in a private vehicle results in no medical care at
all until you reach the hospital and delayed care once you do arrive.
So please, don’t hesitate to call 911.
And also don’t hesitate to let me know if this article hasn’t answered all your questions about calling 911 for a medical emergency. In future emails, we’ll
talk about how the fire department responds to fires and other kinds of emergencies.
Thanks and stay safe!