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On TV and in the movies, EMTs are usually portrayed at the most dramatic moments in their jobs. But what is a shift really like for a firefighter/emergency medical technician?
We turned to the Tucson Fire Department to find out.
By Elena Acoba|Photography by Shelley Welander
In 2017, the Tucson Fire Department dispatched medical emergency responders 72,138 times. That accounted for 78 percent of more than 92,000 emergency calls to the department.
All TFD firefighters get 150 to 190 hours of training as EMTs. They learn how to assess medical and trauma issues, take vital signs and provide basic life support (BLS) such as emergency wound and trauma care and giving oxygen and some medications.
Paramedics take at least 1,000 hours of training, including classes in anatomy and physiology. That allows them to provide advanced life support (ALS), including using a heart monitor, administering multiple medications, performing advanced airway procedures and transporting patients to hospital emergency rooms.
Sometimes EMTs will perform the same treatments as paramedics in extreme circumstances when a paramedic isn’t available, such as in rural areas.
One shift with firefighter/emergency medical technician (EMT) Cam Welander early this year showed the variety of calls that require medical help, from true emergencies to non-critical first-aid advice.
Welander’s day at Station 4 near Grant Road and Interstate 10 starts with station upkeep and exercising. Two hours later he responds to the first call of the day: A man who fainted in a doctor’s office.
He and two other firefighters take the ladder truck to the office, lights and sirens on. The older man with several chronic health issues is conscious when the crew arrives. Using their own equipment, the firefighters determine that his blood pressure and pulse are normal, both as he is seated and when he stands up.
Asked what he’d like to do, the patient opts to go home. The firefighters caution him to seek medical help if he continues to feel bad.
Welander, who has logged 12 years as a firefighter, puts in an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. “work” day to train, keep up on professional news, read and act on memos, drill and maintain the station and equipment. Although every firefighter is an EMT, Welander is designated at his station to make sure that stores are stocked with medical supplies and that medical emergency equipment is functioning.
A mid-afternoon call sends him, the rest of the ladder crew and the paramedic truck with two more firefighters to check on an unresponsive woman. They find an underweight 30-year-old breathing at a rate of six breaths per minute — the normal is 12 to 18 — with an elevated pulse and low blood oxygen.
They administer oxygen and help with ventilation using a bag-valve mask, also called a manual resuscitator, which is enough for her to “sort of” come to, Welander says.
“She didn’t look healthy. She was super skinny,” he adds. “The whole way she presented herself, she ended up being transported in advanced life support with the medics.” That means a ride to the hospital emergency room. On the way, information about the woman’s condition is transmitted to the ER by computer to prepare hospital staff for her arrival.
Medical emergency responders are guided by directives issued by Dr. Terrence Valenzuela, an emergency room physician with Banner — University Medical Center Tucson who also serves as the TFD medical director.
Instead of getting on the radio to get direction from hospital ER personnel, “we function under what is called administrative guidelines,” says TFD Capt. Julian Herrera, who is in charge of medical administration. That saves time and it standardizes how responders handle calls.
Firefighters drill on these directives and use them to quickly assess each situation.
For the unconscious woman, the team checked multiple vital signs, including blood pressure, heart rate, pupils, gripping and skin elasticity. They noted the circumstances—in this case, the patient was lying down with low respiration rate — and took a quick medical history.
“We trust our numbers and the way the patient is presenting,” says Welander. “Based on what we find, we have guidelines that specify whether the patient needs to be transported in an ALS or basic life support ambulance.”
After 5 p.m., Welander’s work day is over and after dinner it’s down time until a call comes in. And one does: a fall injury. Four firefighters are let in by a man to a disheveled apartment and find a woman on the floor. One of her legs is wrapped in a bloody elastic bandage. And she is drunk. “She’s laughing and joking and moving her leg around,” Welander says.
The responders learn that the woman fell down and heard a pop. As they examine the injury, they find indications of a compound fracture of her tibia and fibula, both of which are poking through her skin.
The crew calls for a paramedic unit, which helps with treatment and drives her to the hospital. Detail matters when calling 911 regarding a medical emergency. Because the call about the woman was for a fall injury with no more detail, EMTs were sent first to assess the situation. Had someone mentioned broken bones that broke skin, says Welander, a paramedic unit might have been called out first.
“The caller needs to describe the scene as accurately as possible,” says Herrera, “and the dispatcher will make a determination of who to send.”
Mental health calls are some of the most challenging because the emergency health system isn’t set up to handle them. It’s clear that someone who has overdosed or done physical harm needs to go to an ER.
“But if someone has high anxiety or is very angry, it’s not necessarily true that the emergency room would be able to give the most help,” Herrera says.
Paramedics can drive patients only to ERs, so a crisis center is an extra ride away.
“We don’t want to just leave (patients) where they are because they need help,” he says, “so the emergency room has always kind of been the fallback.”
Before Welander’s shift is over, he and his crew tends to a man whose bug bite five days earlier is still swollen, itchy and tender to the touch. The EMTs recommend he take a pain reliever, use an anti-bacterial cream and visit urgent care if it gets worse.
Welander says he “loves his job” as a Station 4 firefighter. It’s the home of TFD’s technical rescue technicians (TRT) team. It responds to complex situations such as structural collapse, swift-water rescue, automobile extraction, rope rescue and confined-space rescue.
Firefighters rely on their training as a well-oiled unit to handle these calls. “You feel like you’re part of a Super Bowl team,” Welander says. “Say you pull someone out of a mangled car. That’s an awesome feeling. It’s great anytime we go on a real call.”
But frequent calls from one location for issues that are not medical emergencies “wears on you,” he adds.
There are many stories of these types of calls: People who are homeless and want to get out of extreme weather; the poor who can’t afford to see a doctor or urgent care; the person who frequently calls 911 for non-emergencies.
Many 911 calls can’t be solved by emergency medicine: a drug addict who wants to get clean, an elderly woman who needs help with every-day tasks.
“Many times people call 911 because they are at a loss on what to do or how to solve their problem,” says Herrera.
This frequent over-use and abuse of 911 causes “compassion-fatigue” among firefighters, says Capt. Brian Thompson.
“It’s one of those things when you’ve seen the same person out in the field three or four times and they are not taking the steps needed to make progress,” says Thompson. “Our crews are feeling it.”
To help these frequent callers and reduce the number of non-emergency calls, TFD implemented a program designed by Assistant Chief Sharon McDonough. The Tucson Collaborative Community Care (TC-3) program started in January 2016. Thompson is its team manager.
Four firefighters in the program take referrals from field crews who feel a person could benefit from the program. It also takes referrals from a database that tracks frequent 911 callers.
A TFD crew had to rescue a man who had fallen in his bathroom, Thompson reports. The crew, seeing his home in major disrepair, referred his case to the TC-3 team. As the man recovered in a skilled nursing facility, he got a visit from the team, which discovered that he also didn’t have transportation to buy groceries.
The team called the non-profit Community Home Repair Projects of Arizona to fix the water heater and evaporative cooler. Workers also installed a new bathroom sink to replace the one damaged during the rescue. TC-3 also made arrangements for a grocery store to make home deliveries.
“When he returned home, things were much better than when he left,” Thompson says. “This gentleman has been able to enjoy his family home and a better quality of life.”
TC-3 works with many agencies such as Pima Council on Aging, El Rio Community Health Center, Interfaith Community Services, Salvation Army and Sister Jose, as well as private companies that offer home health, hospice care and other services. They help TC-3 coordinate care that will reduce emergencies and, subsequently, 911 calls.
“The city of Tucson has a wide range of valuable resources,” Thompson says. “TC-3 navigates these individuals to the appropriate resources that fit their needs. It is then that we see a reduction, if not a complete stop, to the 911 super-utilization.”
What links 30 public parks, has nearly four-dozen pieces of public art and is likely only one mile from your house? It’s The Loop!
By Kirsten Almquist
If you’ve driven across a bridge spanning one of metropolitan Tucson’s major (frequently dry) rivers, chances are you’ve seen glimpses of a paved path that runs alongside the wash, bristling with cyclists, runners and folks walking dogs. This is Tucson’s not-so-hidden treasure and, after years of development, it’s finally finished. Each day as the sun begins to peek over the Rincon Mountains, outdoor enthusiasts make their way to some portion of this 131-mile multi-use path.
Interestingly enough, recreation is not what first inspired the creation of “The Chuck Huckelberry Loop.” Pima County began building cement bank protection along the banks of the Rillito and Santa Cruz rivers after the mighty floods of 1983. What the city soon discovered was that nearby residents were using the unpaved maintenance access paths on top of the banks to walk their dogs, go for a run or ride their bikes.That’s when inspiration hit.
What started as a good idea, turned out to be a great idea. The county began creating river parks with paved trails. It didn’t take long for these parks to become widely popular. As the years passed, every time the county constructed new sections of embankment along major canals, they built more parks and multifunctional paths. One of the largest, finest and most popular public recreational trails in the country was being blazed right through the heart of Tucson.
On a regular basis, Pima County residents use The Loop as part of their commute and exercise routine. But locals aren’t the only ones taking advantage of this park-centered perk. Over the past decade, The Loop has become a major tourist attraction. Some visitors to Tucson may scratch their heads in confusion as they stare out at our dry riverbeds. However, come monsoon season, they’re shocked to see these parched veins flowing with water, and delighted by the soothing scent of the dampened creosote bushes as they traverse the many miles of pathways.
Rain or shine, for those keen on outdoor recreation, The Loop provides yet another reason to explore Tucson. In February, Pennsylvania residents Clay Shaw and Karen Mitchell made a five-day-long drive to the Old Pueblo in search of winter refuge and to bike outdoors on recently completed paths. “We wanted to get away from our winter woes and just spend a nice relaxing month in Tucson because we knew it was beautiful, having been here before,” says Mitchell. “The Loop is really well done. The signage made it easy to figure out where we were. I love the fact that you just follow the river and you don’t get off on a bad shoot.”
Jon Jegglie, a resident of Sierra Vista, discovered The Loop nearly three years ago. He makes it a point to use it on weekends when he and his wife are visiting. “My wife drops me at Thornydale and Orange Grove and goes shopping. I walk along The Loop up to the QT on Craycroft and she picks me up there,” he says.
In addition to luring tourists and locals, The Loop has played a significant role in the art community, as well as the success of local shops, restaurants and farmers markets. For Jessie and David Zugerman, owners of Tucson Hop Shop, locating the brewery in the Metal Arts Village near the path was a no-brainer. “We knew the cyclists would be a huge target demographic for our business,” says Jessie. “Proximity to this major cycling artery was a cornerstone in finding a location.” The pair feels lucky to have found a spot less than a mile from The Loop entrance at Dodge Boulevard.
The Rillito Farmers Market is another business that has benefitted. Although many market shoppers still arrive by car, The Loop provides safe passage for those who wish to bike there. Numerous visitors to the market make a spontaneous stop because they spot the market while biking or walking.
After picking up some local goodies from the Rillito Farmers Market and grabbing a brew from Tucson Hop Shop, “loopers” can take in the spectacle of more than 90 pieces of public art located along the river park paths. Some are obvious, even dramatic, statements designed to reflect the character of the location or enhance a neighborhood’s distinctive identity. Others are more subtle and serve to complement the appearance of more functional features of the linear park such as bridges, noise walls, railings and benches.
Artist Stephen Fairfield submitted the first of his popular “Batty Biker” sculptures in response to a request for concepts incorporating bats, bikes and bridges. “Pima County sought to have sculptures along The Loop where people would go to see the roosting bats fly out at dusk to feed, and come back at dawn to rest up. They also wanted the sculptures relevant to passersby on bicycles,” Fairfield explains. “I kind of have a cracked sense of humor and it isn’t hard for me to find whimsy in everyday things, hence the bat and the bike series.”
Whether you’re using it for restaurant hopping, vegetable shopping, or just enjoying the great outdoors, there’s still one question that may be circling your mind: is The Loop complete? The answer is, yes — but it’s not finished. Future projects to make it bigger and better are already in the planning stages, including improved river park pathways in certain areas, as well as adding sections in Marana and Oro Valley. The county will widen paths in some places and increase native vegetation in others. Look for more improvements and path extensions over the next decade. TL
Editorial Note: Thanks to Pima County Attractions and Tourism for providing information and photos for this article.
If you’re new to town, you may not realize that along with events involving the UA Wildcats, there are other athletic competitions taking place here — even on ice! Meet three local, professional sports teams, whose young players have their eyes on moving up to competing on a national level.
By Betsy Bruce
Though the exact origins of baseball are unknown, it can be traced back to 18th century England. It’s safe to say that the early practitioners of bat-and-ball contests wouldn’t recognize a modern game. But baseball has become iconic in America, as well as loved in countries such as Japan, Cuba and South Korea.
The players of the Pecos League’s Tucson Saguaros, all just cracking their 20s, play for the love of the game. Their manager, 72-year-old Bill Moore, has been involved in independent league baseball for almost half a century. Moore identifies the 1988 Kevin Costner film Bull Durham as his favorite baseball movie because, “It is the most realistic portrait of minor league baseball ever.” If you wonder what he thinks of toiling outside the spotlights of “the Show,” his comment on his career is: “In the big department store of the universe, I work in the toys department … great job.”
Home base for the Saguaros right now is TUSD’s Cherry Field and the team’s roster is composed of plucky young men, most fresh from college, who aspire to play in “the bigs.” Indeed Moore has managed an amazing 28 players who’ve made it to the major leagues, including Paul Konerko, captain of the 2005 World Series Champion Chicago White Sox and Andre Ethier, the Dodgers’ all-time leader in postseason appearances. “I like an aggressive bunch of guys,” says Moore. “I like to play with speed.” When the Saguaros are having fun on the field, that’s when they’re playing their best.
Pitcher Eric Morell returned to the Saguaros after a perfect 7 and 0 in 2017. The recent LaGrange College (Georgia) graduate majored in exercise science, and though he throws the heat, he says icing the arm post game isn’t necessary so he doesn’t indulge. Morrell pitches with a “bulldog mentality” and has little doubt the Saguaros are championship caliber this season. California native and leftie pitcher Ryan Baca has been playing baseball since he was two years old and says being a southpaw “makes me a little sneakier.” The 2018 marked Baca’s inaugural year playing for Moore. “I’ve heard nothing but good things about him,” says Baca. “This is a guy you can learn a lot from. Dude is awesome.”
Pecos League play starts in mid-May and, according to Moore, will end in mid-August with the Saguaro’s taking part in the League championship. First pitch for weekday home games is at 7 p.m., just when that cooling expanse of shade begins to grow. Tickets can be purchased online or at the gate. Bleachers are in place and lawn chairs are welcome. A food truck will offer burgers off the grill and cold drinks.
For FC Tucson Head Coach Dave Cosgrove, paradise can be found on the green quilt of soccer fields at Kino Complex North. “This is the best facility in our league and it’s why they bring in the pro teams for pre-season training,” he comments. The immaculate fields, densely carpeted, make one imagine a player might be bounced back to his feet upon falling.
Although most of the world calls the sport football, we Americans call it soccer, borrowing slang that originated in England in the 1800s. The story goes that in order to keep Rugby and the other ball game from being confused, it became known as Association Football, with students at Oxford, et al. shortening it to “soc” plus “er.”
In any case, FC stands for Football Club and it takes major skills to make the FC Tucson roster of 18 players who travel. The season runs from early May through July and the team is composed of collegiate stars and newly graduated players who all aim to advance to the professional leagues. Former FC Tucson players now competing in MLS (Major League Soccer) include Aaron Long, a defender for the New York Red Bulls; Aaron Herrera, Real Salt Lake forward; and the 2016 Collegiate Player of the Year Jon Bakero, a forward for the Chicago Fire. “Tucson,” says Cosgrove, who also is the soccer coach for Pima Community College, “is a terrific soccer city.”
The North Stadium at Kino Sport Complex, just across from Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium on Ajo Way, affords covered seating for 1,800 fans. Games start at 7:30 p.m. and tickets can be purchased online and at the gate. The season runs from May through July (longer with championship play). Grilled burgers, hot dogs, nachos and popcorn are served, as well as ice-cold beverages.
In its six years of existence, FC Tucson has had unprecedented success, winning division titles five of those seasons. Under new ownership, the future looks brighter still. Phoenix Rising, the Phoenix-based team aspiring to become an MLS franchise, purchased the team last year, adding cachet and resources. FC Tucson will advance to the professional ULS (United League Soccer) within the next two years. “We play with a lot of energy and enthusiasm,” says Cosgrove. “Fans can expect a total soccer experience.” FC Tucson soccer is relentless and artistic, and when you go, expect to see nose-to-the-pitch, infinitely conditioned athletes working the soft leather ball with feet as articulate as hands doing sign language. And that sign, more often than not, is victory.
Editor’s note: The FC Tucson women’s team recently won the Pac South Conference Championship.
For the last two years there has been a new weather phenomenon in the desert Southwest. October though May, it’s been snowing inside the Tucson Convention Center. Throwing up rooster tails of fresh, fine ice (know in the game as “snow”) are a group of 28 supremely padded, hockey-stick-wielding buddies called the Tucson Roadrunners. They may be the “farm team” for the National
Hockey League’s Arizona Coyotes (most under contract to the ’Yotes and many called up), but they are so much more than that. They are Tucson — unique, spirited and determined.
The charming “Coyotes and Roadrunners” reference is indeed an homage to the classic Warner Bros. cartoon. “Meep Meep” sounds after the clamor of each Roadrunner goal at the TCC.
Last season’s captain Andrew Campbell hails from Caledonia, Ontario. Tall at 6’3” he rises to 6’6” on blades. Campbell credits chemistry in part for the team’s success. “We have a lot of fun on the ice and outside the rink. It’s a great group of guys.” One of three goalies for the team, 22-year-old Minnesotan Hunter Miska, says he savors the pressure of the position — the last line of defense. His artist father has custom air-brushed the masks of some of the most famous NHL goalies, including Evgeni Nabokov and Miikka Kiprusoff. It’s the one concession to individualism allowed on the ice. Miska’s mask, painted by his father, is adorned with the state of Arizona with a rising sun and mountains on one side, and the Coyotes’ logo on the other, willing his son to someday defend the crease against the very best.
The Stanley Cup of the Roadrunners’ AHL (American Hockey League) is the Calder Cup and in May 2018 the team made it as far as the Pacific Division Final. “We are young and fast,” Miska says.” We outwork other teams.” The thousands of fans who cheer on the Roadrunners are “passionate and rowdy,” pounding the Plexiglass, clanging purple cowbells and snacking on mini doughnuts fresh from a concessioner’s sizzling deep fryer.
The weather calls for snow again this October inside the TCC, and one lucky fan will be chosen to gather it. A second seat has been added atop the Zamboni, the backyard shed-sized machine that snakes around the rink, collecting snow, dispensing fresh water and erasing the scars of the last quarter. Rink-side tickets can be had for $40 to $50, but there is always a seat for just around $10. The Roadrunner 2018-19 season starts in October, and tickets will go on sale this summer. TL
Tucson Lifestyle Magazine is the Tucson's only glossy, monthly city magazine, targeting Southern Arizona’s affluent residents. With over 35 years of publishing experience, Tucson Lifestyle is committed to highlighting the people, places, cuisine, and attractions that make our city unique.
This is your chance to win a very special prize package provided by the Arizona Theatre Company and Santa Rita Landscaping. ONE WINNER will receive: Four tickets to opening night of Native Gardens by Karen Zacarias Dinner at ATC’s Bar …
On TV and in the movies, EMTs are usually portrayed at the most dramatic moments in their jobs. But what is a shift really like for a firefighter/emergency medical technician? We turned to the Tucson Fire Department to find out. …
Path, Present, Future! What links 30 public parks, has nearly four-dozen pieces of public art and is likely only one mile from your house? It’s The Loop! By Kirsten Almquist If you’ve driven across a bridge spanning one of metropolitan …