By SUSAN SCHELL
Curry County's Cal-Ore Life Flight Ground and Air Ambulance company has signed mutual aid agreements with the Cape Ferrelo and Gold Beach Fire Departments and is currently working on agreements with Ophir and Pistol River.
The mutual aid agreements "will allow firefighters to aid patients in the event existing ambulances are busy," said Joe Gregorio, operations manager for Cal-Ore.
"This happens regularly, especially during the summer. The fire department can start first aid until an ambulance arrives," he said.
Cal-Ore has provided training to local firefighters in Brookings for several years, teaching the volunteers CPR and first aid.
"The volunteers do an outstanding job," Gregorio said. "They work very well with us. In such a rural community, we need their assistance."
Gregorio explains that when an ambulance is on a call, it must transport patients to either Sutter Coast Hospital in Crescent City or Curry General Hospital in Gold Beach.
"If we're already out on a call, it could take an ambulance a good hour to an hour and 45 minutes to reach the patient. The summer is the busiest season.
"In a scenario where there might be massive injuries, like a mail boat overturning, there could be about 30 or more patients needing assistance before the ambulance arrives. Then we would set up a triage and assess the patients' needs and dispatch ambulances to the site.
"Formerly, we had untrained people responding to incidents. Now, with the mutual aid agreements, everyone works hand-in-hand and knows what to do."
Gregorio said the agreements with Ophir and Pistol River are in the final stages.
"If someone has a heart attack in Ophir, even if an ambulance is available, it would take 15 to 20 minutes to respond. The local fire department can be there in five minutes and perform CPR and start oxygen; they can keep the patient stable until we get there."
In the meantime, Cal-Ore paramedics continue to conduct regular training sessions at the Brookings Fire Department to give volunteers hands-on experience with life saving equipment.
The crews practice maneuvering a gurney in and out of an ambulance and receive instruction on ambulance equipment. During a recently staged car accident, one volunteer played the part of an accident victim. The crew then removed the victim from the car and placed him on a stretcher under the supervision of the fire captain, who gives instruction on the proper handling of the victim to avoid further injuries.
The volunteer firefighters range in age from teenagers to senior citizens. Jason Cartwright, 14, recently joined the crew as a junior firefighter; Roger Ruhl, also a new member, is retired.
"You just have to get over being nervous. The (hands-on training) is the only way to go. You can't learn this from reading books," Ruhl said at his introductory training session Monday night.