Detroit firefighters cross-trained, taking medical runs

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — The city’s firefighters are now cross-trained for emergency medical runs and John Samuels Jr. says he’s alive today because of it.

Samuels went into cardiac arrest while napping on the couch of his Detroit home after church on Christmas Day. Soon after, a 911 operator directed his wife to administer CPR and a life-saving team of emergency medical technicians and firefighter first responders took it from there.

“I never thought it would be me as a recipient of it,” said Samuels, a 59-year-old electrician who is trained in CPR. “Now I know what CPR can do. It worked for me.”

Samuels detailed the efforts that saved his life during a Thursday news conference with Mayor Mike Duggan and Detroit fire officials marking the completion of a two-year process that has all of Detroit’s 871 fire personnel trained to handle medical runs.

Detroit launched the mandatory Medical First Responder program in 2014. Before then, Detroit was one of the only major fire departments in the country without cross-trained firefighters.

Duggan said Thursday that 624 firefighters have completed their certifications so far, allowing them to assist Emergency Medical Technician crews responding to life-threatening emergencies.

“Today, this entire city is covered by Medical First Responders from the Detroit Fire Department,” Duggan said from inside Detroit Fire Engine 53 on Greenfield. “It’s hard to describe how important this is.”

Since the first trained fire company started taking medical runs in April 2015, firefighters have responded to more than 30,000 medical runs, nearly half of the life-threatening calls dispatched since that time, officials said.

More than 60 percent of the time, officials noted, they have been the first on scene, stabilizing patients until emergency medical technicians and paramedics arrive.

Duggan said firefighters arrived on the scene of life-threatening emergencies ahead of ambulance crews 12,000 times last year.

Since the department’s first cross-trained fire company started taking runs, the city’s average response time for life-threatening medical emergencies has gone from 10:41 to 8:30, Duggan said. The national average is 8 minutes.

When Duggan took office in 2014, the average response time was close to 20 minutes.

Detroit Fire Commissioner Eric Jones said every firehouse in the city that operates with an engine or a rescue squad is taking the emergency medical runs. The department, he said, has 27 engines and six rescue squad companies.

“We respond. We arrive. We save lives,” Jones said. “On or off duty, if you call, the men and women of the Detroit Fire Department and EMS will arrive and do their best to save you.”

Jones also noted Thursday that a medic unit and fire first-responder engine were dispatched to the city’s southwest side on March 15 when two Detroit Police officers were shot. The medic unit worked on and transported one of the two officers to the hospital, he said.

Firefighter Ron Jones said he’d already put in 23 years with the department before the training program was instituted. He took on the challenge and has since responded to scenes on and off duty.

Last April, he rendered aid to a customer who was choking while dining at an Outback restaurant.

“I had the training that was given to me by the department and I used it,” he said.

Samuels’ wife, Tanya Samuels, said the cross-training enhances the image of the city and its fire department. After his initial care from the EMTs and firefighters, her husband arrived at Sinai Grace Hospital with a pulse and was breathing on his own.

“I’m very grateful for the team,” she said. “I’m not sure I would have been able to do what I did without their assistance.”