Recent State Law Inspires Acton, Mass., EMS Setup

Recent State Law Inspires Acton, Mass., EMS Setup


Emergency medical service is relatively new in Massachusetts. It started in 1973 when the legislature passed a law to place all emergency medical services under one governing body over a four-year period. Hopefully, the transition will be completed by next July.

The law regulates the types of emergency vehicles used, the amount of training for attendants and the equipment carried. The law also states that all police and fire department members must have the minimum training of a 40-hour first responder course. This law brings Massachusetts in line with many other parts of the country.

The EMS law now requires 81 hours of training for emergency medical technicians and it is expected that in the next few years, there will be a state 396-hour training requirement for EMT-paramedics.

Service in Acton

In Acton, Mass., a private ambulance served the town until 1951, when the police department took over the responsibility for emergency medical transportation. The police used a sedan with a fold-down rear seat for a patient until 1955, when a station wagon that could hold a stretcher was purchased. Station wagons continued to be used until this year and because of their lack of room, little in the way of emergency care could be provided en route to one of the three hospitals in the Acton area.

In 1970, the Acton Fire Department, which is fully paid, put a rescue truck in service. Although patients could be carried in this truck, the police continued to be responsible for emergency medical transportation until the 1973 EMS law went into effect.

Aware of what the future was bringing, Acton fire fighters began to prepare for it. Several fire fighters passed the first EMT course given in the area and there are now 22 fire-fighter EMTS. The police department has only six EMTs.

Following the example of many municipalities, Acton also gave the responsibility for emergency medical service to the fire department. Last May 13, a new modular ambulance was placed in service in the District 1 Fire Station. The ambulance purchase was financed jointly by the town, the Massachusetts Office of Emergency Medical Service and the Governor’s Highway Safety Bureau.

EMTs on duty

The ambulance is manned at all times by one registered EMT and there is an EMT on duty in each Acton engine company. When there is a call for the ambulance, the closest engine company to the incident also responds. Often the engine company arrives first and its EMT begins giving emergency care before the ambulance arrives. The ambulance EMT than takes over the care of the patient and a policeman drives the ambulance to a hospital.

Next July, the EMS law will require ambulances to be manned by two EMTs. It is hoped that this can be done in Acton by the addition of four more EMTs to the fire department. Then there will be longer any need to have police help man the ambulance.

Emergency medical service is new to Acton—as well as Massachusetts—but from a slow beginning, Acton is endeavoring to provide the best possible care for its residents.

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