March 20, 2013 - A significant chunk of federal grant money was awarded to the Addison Township Fire Department to help improve its emergency medical capabilities.
Addison Fire EMS Coordinator Marilyn Szost (left) and Assistant Chief John Beach pose with one of their current cardiac monitor/defibrillators. They applied for and were awarded a $60,667 federal grant to purchase two new ones. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
The department was the recipient of a $60,667 Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). It's the agency's third AFG award since 2010, bringing the total up to $257,669.
According to Assistant Chief John Beach, who worked on the grant application with EMS Coordinator Marilyn Szost, the money will be used to purchase two new 12-lead electrocardiogram (EKG) monitor/defibrillator units. "We're hoping to have them by June," he said.
These will replace the "aging" and "outdated" cardiac monitors currently used in the department's two ambulances, according to the grant application. Each unit is more than 11 years old. One of them has been sent out for repairs "at least three times in the past 12 months," Szost noted.
Cardiac monitors are an "essential tool" in the department's operations. Looking at the agency's calls from 2009-12, the monitors were used during 687 medical runs.
The units Addison is purchasing offer "the highest power on the market right now" in terms of electrical therapy for the heart, according to Szost.
Most defibrillators can shock a patient's heart with a maximum of 200 joules of electricity. The units Addison is purchasing can generate 360 joules, which can be needed if, for example, a patient's heart goes back into fibrillation (i.e. rapid and irregular muscle contractions) after being shocked once.
"This is a good step up," Szost said. "The higher power has been shown to be better. Some places out west are putting two (200-joule) defibrillators on people to shock them."
In addition to being able to better monitor the heart and shock it when necessary, the new monitors can also measure the amount of carbon dioxide in a patient's blood based on the levels of it in their exhaled breath.
"When the carbon dioxide increases, that means you have good circulation, good respirations and everything's going well," Szost said. "If it's not, then we need to do something."
This new tool will be very helpful in cases involving drug overdoses, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and any type of respiratory problems, she said. It will tell emergency medical personnel whether or not the therapy they're administering to patients is working.
In addition to measuring carbon dioxide, the new units monitor the level of carbon monoxide in a patient's bloodstream. That's particularly important when the department needs to monitor patients who have been exposed to carbon monoxide leaks or smoke from a fire.
It will also help the department better ensure their firefighters don't succumb to smoke inhalation while battling blazes or breathe in anything harmful while doing salvage work at a fire scene.
Without this grant, Beach said there's "absolutely no way" the department could have afforded such high-tech units.
"We would not have been able to replace (the old units)," he said. Under this grant, all Addison has to kick in is $3,193.
Beach noted the department's older monitor/defibrillator units "still work," but the "technology is better nowadays" and they wanted to take advantage of that in order to improve patient care.
"The whole department sat down and asked, 'What can we really use that we can't purchase ourselves?' And this is what we came up with," he said.
Beach noted earning this grant is another step in helping Fire Chief Jerry Morawski achieve his goal of obtaining $1 million in grants and private donations within a 10-year period.
"We're up to $290,000," he said.
Initiated in 2001, FEMA's AFG program has helped firefighters and other first responders obtain critically needed equipment, protective gear, emergency vehicles, training and other resources to protect both the public and emergency personnel from fire and other hazards.
"I thought we had a pretty good shot at (getting the grant), but every year, they keep cutting more money (from the program), so it makes it even more competitive," Beach noted. "There's some very needy departments out here."
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.