Just like local businesses, Capital City Fire and Rescue is preparing for the first cruise ship throwline to hit the dock and the accompanying 900,000-plus passengers, some of whom will need the department’s services during their stays in Juneau.
The department’s Basic Life Support-Emergency Medical Technician 1 recruits were in their final day of testing Wednesday for four summer positions.
“Last year the department responded to over 3,400 calls,” CCFR Fire Chief Richard Etheridge said. “These positions helped relieve that with over 400 transports. That is a pretty significant percentage. And 70 percent of that is medical.”
Marine passenger fees fund the summer positions.
“The value of these positions are huge,” Etheridge said. “It prevents the delays to the citizens of Juneau. If we are tied up in a transport it delays our response to the taxpayers who need an ambulance.”
Last season’s responses included trips to the cruise ships, to Bartlett Regional Hospital, to the Juneau International Airport and Mendenhall Glacier
“Anything from picking up passengers who were out hiking and had fallen and gotten hurt to responses to arriving vessels with ailing passengers,” Etheridge said.
Basic Life Support deals with treating airway ailments, other issues related to oxygen-circulation problems and delivery of oxygen. A typical written test question would ask what to do upon arriving on scene of a person having, say, a broken arm, and appropriate treatment. Another might be a list of vital signs and diagnosing that ailment.
On Wednesday recruits had written tests, background checks and oral interviews. They also had eight minutes to navigate an obstacle course that included carrying a 25-pound medical case up and down three flights of stairs, dragging a 165-pound mannequin, carrying a 38-pound oxygen kit up and down three flights of stairs, lifting a 30-pound Jaws of Life device eight times, simulating the start of a Jaws pump by pulling a 15-pound weight five times, and unloading and loading a 100-plus-pound gurney from an ambulance and safely shutting the doors.
Out-of-breath recruits had various reasons for wanting to join the program.
Volunteer fire station captain Joseph Calnan is retiring from the Coast Guard and said he wants to stay active in civic duty.
Heather Stickland just finished a stint in the Peace Corps, wants a career in emergency medical services and is looking for experience.
Fitness instructor Shaun Rhea hopes to be a permanent hire to aid the community.
Katelyn Kimlinge said she is doing it because she has always been into health sciences and wants to get into the EMT field.
“To get a foot in the door,” Travis Wolfe said. “For bigger and better things in the fire department and service to the community.”
Successful recruits will be required work a half-week on, half-week off schedule through the cruise season. Their primary duties will be to conduct inter-facility transports. For example, if a passenger suffers a basic life support illness on the cruise ship, the technician would meet the vessel at dock, get basic patient information and transport that patient to Bartlett Regional Hospital. If further transport is needed the aid would continue. His or her secondary role would be to respond with the CCFR as transports.
“Long-term, our goal would be to hire these positions on full-time because there is a need for them,” Firefighter Paramedic Charles Blattner said. “But because the funding comes from the cruise ship industry they get the benefits of it. The cruise ships and tourists increase our call volume by 30-40 percent.”
Kimlinger, Wolfe, Rhea, and Ziad Alkak are products of the CCFR scholarship program. The program is open to Alaska residents planning to attend, or currently attending, the University of Alaska Southeast.
The CCFR awards 13 scholarships each semester. The scholarships are renewable for up to two years of study provided the student is fulfilling all the requirements of the program.
“Basically we fund tuition, some of their books, and providing housing,” Etheridge said. “In trade they live in the fire station (and) pull shift duty ... . They can take any classes that they want to take in the university and they have a few benchmarks that they have to take, like EMT 1 and Firefighter 1 in a certain time period, but the rest of the classes are up to them. Some people are finishing up degrees and using this to finance that and others are just starting out their college careers.”
The scholarship is funded by a four-year Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response, or SAFER, grant through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA. The CCFR will reapply for the grant again in hopes of to continuing the program into the future.
The CCFR is currently taking applications for openings and for the eligibility list for its scholarship program. Applications must be postmarked by May 11 and are available at the CCFR website or by contacting Division Chief Beth Weldon.
• Contact reporter Klas Stolpe at 523-2263 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.