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PFPD questioned on scope of service

The training of and equipment used by the staff and volunteers of the Pagosa Fire Protection District has been called into question.

Local resident Jack Lilly approached the PFPD board of directors at their meeting Tuesday night to voice his concerns about the district’s performance, based on a number of incidents he observed over the last year.

Lilly prefaced his criticism by telling the board, “I spent most of my adult life in public service — fire department, Coast Guard, police department — 40 years, and am a great supporter of public safety and public service. However, I’m equally as critical when I see things that I think could be improved with a minimal amount of money and training.”

Lilly also informed the board that he’d previously spoken with PFPD Chief Ron Thompson following a March 7 explosion in the Loma Linda subdivision and brought a number of other concerns — training issues and incident command, for example — to light.

“Chief Thompson was gracious enough to let me yell at him for about an hour following the explosion over in Loma Linda,” Lilly said. “I saw several things there, and at two other incidents in the last year, that displeased me greatly as far as performance and equipment that was available to the firefighters.”

Lilly explained that, at the three incidents he observed, the PFPD preceded EMS to the scene and he claimed the PFPD had no first aid equipment at any of the calls.

“I don’t think that what I’m requesting is beyond the minimal expectations of the citizens of Archuleta,” Lilly said, before suggesting that all full-time district employees be certified in basic EMT, with volunteers certified in advanced first aid. He added that all district trucks and vehicles, not just the rescue rig, should be equipped with first aid equipment.

“... just to maintain life until the paramedics get there. I don’t think that’s too much to ask,” Lilly said.

Lilly also mentioned trauma kits a number of times in talking to the board, seemingly causing some misunderstanding, with some members of the board perceiving that Lilly was requesting that all department members be EMT certified.

Board Director, Ron Maez noted that the responsibility of the fire department is to respond to fire emergencies, not medical emergencies. Lilly responded, saying that sometimes an incident is one and the same and that it is not beyond the expectations of those served that the fire department would be prepared to help medically.

Thompson said, “All of our people are trained in CPR and basic first aid as part of their Firefighter 1 training.”

“Anybody can Monday-morning quarterback, no insult to you (Lilly), to any incident,” said Maez, “and can come up with different scenarios and situations, but,” he added “most of the tasks at hand that are carried out by this fire department have been done well. We are not a medical unit, we don’t do medical, we do fire.”

“That’s why I’m here,” Lilly responded, warning that negligence has potential to lead to lawsuits. Lilly also reiterated his suggestion that those responding should have the equipment to supplement their training just in case, even if the equipment never actually gets used.

Board Member, Michael Howe, chimed in, asking Lilly if he had approached Emergency Medical Services about their response times, which Lilly said he had.

Maez continued, noting that the district is operating within the scope of fire response, and that firefighters cannot be EMS personnel, a service taxpayers fund separately.

Board member Bob Frye then joined the conversation, urging everyone to take a step back to be sure all were on the same topic. “My personal opinion: I think the rigs ought to have basic first aid kits in them. I think that’s not asking too much.”

Thompson then clarified that all the vehicles have first aid kits, but not trauma kits.

“This community can’t afford duplications of services and there’s no use competing with another entity that does what they do very well,” but as far as the first aid and first responder, the department should “have the tools to implement that,” Frye said.

The board then began discussing what certifications their volunteers hold, vowing to have counts available at the next meeting.

With that, Lilly said he would appreciate anything to be safer, and left.

Following his departure, Maez opined that the department was operating within the scope of what they are tasked to provide, and that no response is ever quick enough when you’re a bystander.

Thompson then told the board that, in a phone conversation , Lilly pointed out some issues, and that some changes had been made to improve the situation, and that Lilly was listened to. Thompson also briefly began a discussion about grants available for training and equipment purposes.

Archuleta County Combined Dispatch Manager Jay English said in a later interview that PFPD is dispatched to deal with structure fires, to assist with wildland fires, on carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and fire alarms, as well as on motor vehicle accidents.

When responding to motor vehicle accidents, English said PFPD’s primary responsibility is rescue and extraction, and said firefighters are never the primary responder for emergency medical purposes. English also explained that EMS runs as backup to fires.

English noted that, in his experience, many rural agencies have to deal with the same issues brought to light by Lilly.

randi@pagosasun.com