TABLE 5-4 Fire Department Responses (2003)

Type of Response


Percent Change from 2002




Medical Aid



False Alarm



Mutual Aid/Assistance



Hazardous Material (hazmat)



Other Hazard (e.g., arcing wires, bomb removal)



Other (e.g., smoke scares, lockouts)






SOURCE: U.S. Fire Administration, 2005.

sonnel or rescue or other equipment. Using protocols, emergency medical dispatchers must determine whether ground or air ambulance capacity is required for a given emergency call. The default position for dispatchers is to assume that a ground ambulance is needed. Air ambulances are not typically called until an emergency responder on the ground (police, first responder, or emergency medical technician [EMT]) has confirmed the need.

Fire department first responders often provide support for patients before other EMS units can respond. Fire stations are generally well distributed across a given jurisdiction, especially in urban and suburban areas, and are often the first responders able to arrive at the scene of a medical emergency. Although statistics from the U.S. Fire Administration indicate that medical aid calls outnumber fire calls by 9 to 1 (see Table 5-4), fire equipment is typically geared to fighting fires rather than treating sick or injured patients. As a result, it is not uncommon for large fire trucks to carry first responders or EMS personnel to the scene of an incident.

Ground Ambulance Capacity and Safety Issues

Today more than 12,000 ambulance services operate about 24,000 ground ambulance vehicles in the United States (AAA, 2006). Typically, ambulances must be licensed by the state to ensure that they meet specific trained staffing and equipment requirements. Although these requirements vary by state, basic life support (BLS) units typically carry EMS personnel, as well as equipment such as oxygen tanks, equipment to stabilize fractures, airway supplies (including suction devices and manual and automatic ventilators), and often automated external defibrillators (AEDs). Advanced life support (ALS) units carry paramedics, as well as all BLS equipment, plus medications, intravenous fluids, advanced airway adjuncts, portable pulse oximetry, manual heart monitors/defibrillators (some of which are capable

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