After a simple ceremony, which included a priest’s blessing, the call went out from the Watertown Fire Headquarters, “Medic 1 now is service.”
While the celebration was a quiet one, but the change is a major one for the Watertown Fire Department and the people of the town. For the first time, paramedic services will be provided by Watertown firefighters in ambulances based in Watertown.
This will mean quicker response times to medical emergencies because private companies would often send ambulances based in surrounding communities to cover calls in Watertown. The town will also be able to collect fees charged for ambulance service, which had gone to the ambulance companies.
Preparation started about a year and a half ago when the Town Council approved funding for the Advanced Life Support (ALS) service, and the firefighters signed their new contract, said Fire Lt. David Meagher, who is in charge of training and EMS for the department. The Fire Department has wanted to do this for many years.
“This has been a long time in coming. It was the vision of Chief (Mario) Orangio since he was appointed chief,” Meagher said during the ceremony.
Father Matthew Conley, the Parochial Vicar for St. Patrick and Sacred Heart churches gave the blessing Tuesday morning. He said it has special meaning for him because his brother has been a firefighter in East Boston for 10 years.
“I am wearing a special stoal with the symbol of your patron saint, Saint Florian,” Conley said. “Today we ask for his intercession and the intercession of the Father and all the saints.”
After reciting a prayer, Conley blessed Medic 1, the ambulance based at the Fire Station on Main Street, with holy water and made the sign of the cross on the vehicle.
Until Tuesday, Watertown contracted out paramedic, or ALS, services to private providers. To prepare to provide paramedic services, the Fire Department hired some firefighters with paramedic training from other departments or private ambulance companies and now have 11 trained medics. Two more firefighters are taking the year-long medic school course, Meagher said.
The inside of the ambulance looks much the same, but firefighter Anthony Caruso – one of the paramedics – said it is equipped with new medications and equipment.
The medications include narcotics, Narcan – given to people overdosed on heroin or opiates – and a drug given to people who have breathed in hydrogen cyanide.
“A lot of couches and furniture gives off gasses that could be fatal to firefighters or occupants of the home,” Caruso said.
The ambulance also has a new cardiac monitor which can check not only the heart rate but also measures carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide.
“Anything they can do in the emergency room we can do, for the most part,” Caruso said.
Paramedics can perform an intubation, which is placing a tube in an obstructed airway, as well as give IVs and provide electrical cardiac therapy, said firefighter Dave Messina, a trained paramedic. This includes the defibrillator shocks when a heart has stopped, as well as providing pace making and other assistance.
To begin with, the Watertown Fire Department will have one ambulance for Advanced Life Support (paramedic) and a second for Basic Life Support (the level provided in the past). Rob Mannix, a firefighter and president of the union, said a third ambulance is being purchased and in the future the Fire Department hopes to have two ALS ambulances.