First and fast care: Emergency Medical Technician on the scene

For National Emergency Medical Services (EMS) week (May 21 – 27), we’re honoring the local heroes that make up our EMS/Medic One system in King County. Each day, we’ll be sharing a unique perspective on saving lives from the people doing this work every day.

Today, we’re taking a closer look at Basic Life Support (BLS) response. Sent to an incident by 911 dispatchers, BLS personnel are the first responders to a scene and provide immediate medical care, such as advanced first aid and CPR/AED to stabilize the patient.  Staffed by firefighters trained as Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs), BLS units arrive at the scene in about five minutes (on average).

We connected with EMT and firefighter Nate Strobel with the Puget Sound Regional Fire Authority to tell us a bit about his 15 year career within the King County EMS system.

Nate Strobel EMS week photo
EMT Nate Strobel and daughter Maryanne

How did you get drawn to this field? 

I was leading youth and off-site camps and ended up administering first aid to a kid who took a spill during a bike trip. Firefighters who stopped to help noticed my handiwork and encouraged me to look into the fire service. While some kids spend their lives wanting to be a firefighter, I had never really considered it.  But it entails everything I like to do and most importantly, I get to help people.

What is the difference between an EMT and a firefighter?  Do you still fight fires? 

In Washington state, firefighters are also certified as EMTs.  This way, we are ready right from the onset for anything that could arise. If we are on a fire call and there is need for medical assistance, we are trained for that. About 80% of our calls are EMS-related, so we have a lot more medical calls than we do houses burning down.

You like to help people. Do you ever find yourself responding to an emergency or helping out someone who is injured, even though you’re not officially at work?

People get injured all the time, and yes, I help out.  I’ve tended to fellow hikers we met during one of our trips, and stopped at the scene of an automobile wreck to see how my skills could be used.  And I know I’m not the only EMT doing this – plenty of others in this field gladly stop and help others, outside of their normal working hours.

What are the roles of each person in the aid unit? Is one usually the driver, or do you alternate responsibilities with your partner?

Aid cars are staffed by two people – a driver and an officer.  The driver for the day is responsible for all things related to the vehicle, while the officer is the patient lead.

We trade back and forth so that we each have time with patients, which is why it’s important that we keep up our training and practice our critical skills.

It’s been said that King County EMTs are some of the most well trained and practiced EMS professionals in the nation. What sort of training do you receive?

We are continually training – if we are not doing the job, we are practicing to do the job.  After completing the initial EMT class, which is roughly 190 hours, we have continuing medical education, practicals, evaluations, run review, lessons learned, EMS drills, you name it.  I’m lucky in that I’m not only learning, but also teaching.

The best way to learn something is to try to teach it so somebody.  Since I have the opportunity to teach others, it totally helps reinforce the lessons for me.

What’s the most heartfelt call you’ve been on?

My coolest call? Child birth. And I bet most would agree with me. It’s pretty amazing bringing a baby in to the world. One of the kids who was delivered at a fire station comes back every year on his birthday to see the crew.

What makes you proud to be part of the King County EMS system?

What I love about being an EMT in this system is how progressive we are, especially our medical directors, and that we are always trying to improve. The role of an EMT is valued here. We have an initial, but crucial, role that sets the stage for what happens next on a call. We are treated with respect, and recognized as a vital part of the continuum of care for patients.

There’s also the camaraderie and connection. You see your co-workers at their best, and worst. You go through a fire together, you put your life in another person’s hands – it certainly brings about a different level of trust. The fire service is a second family. I really could not imagine doing a different job.

Originally posted on May 23, 2017.