Why does the Carmel Fire Department send fire trucks to medical emergencies? This seems wasteful.

This is one of the most common questions posed to our Fire Department. For some people, it may seem a waste of resources to send out a big red fire truck to every EMS call.

On average, 62 percent of the emergency calls we get are medical in nature, which leads to this question quite often. If you have ever been on the receiving end of a call like that, then you saw first-hand why sending additional manpower is helpful. For those who have been fortunate to never need our services, check out this video for a quick clip of a typical medical call for chest pain. After watching, take a few minutes to educate yourself on the reasons we “send the firetruck.”

“If you have ever been on the receiving end of a call like that, then you saw first-hand why sending additional manpower is helpful.”

The following are some of the reasons we send the firetruck:

  • Every Carmel Firefighter is cross-trained as both a Firefighter and an EMT and about one-third of our Firefighters have additionally become Paramedics. (Paramedics can give medications, start IVs, intubate, read EKGs, take and read ultrasound and many other specialized medical procedures in the field.)
  • Every Carmel firetruck carries the same medical equipment as our ambulances and we even staff the firetruck with at least one Firefighter / Paramedic. The only difference is CFD cannot transport you to the ER in the firetruck.
  • There are some areas of Carmel where CFD can get a firetruck to the scene a few minutes before an ambulance, which is due to the station locations and placement of our trucks. Another factor: Instances where the normal ambulance is on another call. The firetruck’s crew can begin administering medications and other life saving measures immediately.
  • The ambulance is staffed with two cross-trained Firefighters, while the engine has four. Almost all medical scenes require several firefighters to move the patient safely – which protects not only the patient, but our Firefighters as well. When dispatched, we don’t know if our patient weighs 50 pounds or 500 pounds; whether they are laying in the front yard or deep in a hoarder’s basement.
  • In more serious medical situations, all six firefighters on the scene have a job. This job is dictated by the scene of the emergency, but can vary between providing an airway, starting an IV, giving medications, performing CPR, getting patient information, helping to explain and contain an anxious family, being a liaison between incoming trucks, police, and dispatch. Many of these jobs happen at the same time.
  • Our CFD crews aim for an on-scene time of around 10 minutes or less. Whether we’re dealing with a hangnail or cardiac arrest, there’s a lot of tasks that six firefighters can do in that short amount of time. Our goal is to get our patients to definitive care as quickly and safely as possible. This 10-minute goal would be nearly unachievable with only an ambulance crew of two.
  • Our Dispatchers are the best in the business, but the information they dispatch and relay is only as good as the caller. Sometimes there are language barriers or other things that complicate the reason we’re being sent to the scene of an emergency. We’d hate to take someone’s word the patient is not having a heart attack, or that they “only fell” and arrive to realize they fell because their heart stopped. We will error on the side of caution and send the help up front.
  • Sometimes CFD needs two or more firefighters in the back of our ambulance on the way to the hospital. An ambulance crew of two gives us one driving and one in back. Having the fire engine on the scene can give us more help in the back. Maybe the patient requires extensive medical procedures or maybe it’s for our firefighters’ safety. Either way, we can pull one or more off the engine to assist us en route to the ER.
  • We’re very fortunate in Carmel. City Councils both past and present have always placed a very high priority on public safety. We are happy to have a fire department that fully staffs its trucks 24 hours, 7 days a week and 365 days a year. There are many other community fire departments that do not have this support and and sometimes have to send multiple firetrucks and an ambulance just to have enough manpower and paramedics on scene.
  • If these reasons are not enough to convince you, then we will admit that not EVERY medical run needs the firetruck and extra personnel. But, if it was YOUR emergency or someone you loved, wouldn’t you want more than enough help sent the first time?

Authored by Laura Campbell, Sue Finkam, Kevin Rider, Jeff Worrell, Tim Hannon, Bruce Kimball, Miles Nelson, Anthony Green and Adam Aasen.