COMPETITION VS COOPERATION
When competition gets in the way of cooperation, everyone suffers.
An emergency call summoned the Roanoke, Ill., ambulance squad to an accident that involved a tractor’s power take-off system severing a farmhand’s arm at the shoulder.
The ambulance squad could not find the severed arm at the scene. Fire fighters were called in to search the area while the victim was transported to the hospital 30 miles away.
Within five minutes the arm was found, 80 feet from the tractor, and taken to the firehouse where a second ambulance was waiting with an ice cube-filled washtub. The arm was rushed to the hospital and surgically reattached to the victim.
This incident, which happened in 1982, is a prime example of the teamwork and cooperation between Roanoke fire fighters and ambulance personnel. But this wasn’t always the case.
In 1974, competition and political aggressions arose between two private ambulance groups which served a community of 2100 people and a rural population of 300. Both ambulance squads began to curry favor with the fire chief, who had considerable political clout in the community.
Before the year was over, the Roanoke Fire Department was only calling in one of the two ambulance services. Feelings among fire fighters as well as ambulance personnel were very tense.
By 1975, political issues had divided the fire department officers and left fire fighters unsure of where to stand. Internal pressure was so great that some members quit the department.
Roanoke’s town council began making inquiries into how the fire department was being run. Pressure continued mounting to the point that fire fighters hated to attend business meetings for fear of what might result. More resigned.
In 1976, the town council made a move to break up the political power of the fire chief. The council proposed that the Roanoke Fire Department become the Roanoke Municipal Fire Department in order to give the town council more control of both the situation and the fire department funds.
At the same time, one ambulance service was trying to buy out the other service backed by the fire chief. This created more problems, with both ambulance squads monitoring calls on their scanners and responding to incidents.
Arguments continued to flare between fire fighters and the fire chief over politics, between the fire chief and the town council concerning the spending of funds, and between the ambulance groups fighting for survival.
In the spring of 1977 things finally came to a head and at a fire department meeting the membership asked the fire chief to resign. That summer, the Roanoke Fire Department became the Roanoke Municipal Fire Department under the direct rule of the town council. In addition, a ruling was made that each private ambulance service would be on call every other month.
However, by late fall 1978, both ambulance services had gone out of business due to lack of funds and costly equipment maintenance.
The two ambulances were donated to the city, and if volunteers could be found to man the vehicles, the town council was willing to take possession of the ambulance service. One of the first places the council looked for ambulance volunteers was the fire department, since most fire fighters were certified in CPR and advanced first aid.
To prevent headaches and confusion and to encourage more fire fighters to join the ambulance squad, the executive committee of the fire department (which consists of the fire chief, the first assistant chief, the second assistant chief and the secretary) put together a ground rule for fire fighters on the ambulance squad. Simply stated, if a fire fighter is on a fire/rescue call, he cannot leave the scene to respond to an ambulance call. And, of course, the same is true if he is on an ambulance call, he cannot leave to go on a fire/ rescue call.
The ambulance service set up squads so that no more than three fire fighters would be on call in each 24-hour period.
In the spring of 1979, the Roanoke Municipal Fire Department became the Roanoke Fire Protection District through referendum.
In early 1980, the executive committees of the ambulance and the fire district encouraged emergency personnel to train together and be available to each other on calls. In order to set up a better communications system, multiscan radios were purchased by the fire district and the town council.
The joint training sessions, called co-ops, began with a mock auto wreck and people playing the parts of the injured. Fire fighters worked with extrication equipment and EMTs worked with the victims. The first co-op was so successful that Roanoke now has two or three mock wrecks each year.
The groups also get together to learn about equipment used by both the ambulance and fire service; to meet the people on the different emergency squads, since about two thirds of the EMTs are private citizens; and to hammer out and reach a mutual agreement over any problems that might arise.
Although the ambulance service is under the direction of the town council, its funds are received through the fire district directors. In another few years, it is expected that the ambulance service will operate as part of the fire district and that the fire chief will oversee both fire/rescue and ambulance services.
Roanoke’s emergency services came a long way in establishing cooperation and team effort. The fire district doesn’t hesitate to call the ambulance squad to stand by at a full-blown fire, just in case a fire fighter is overcome by heat or smoke. And the ambulance squad will summon the fire district if they need extra manpower.