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More medical training for firefighters sought All Lisbon volunteers should have EMT skills, community activist says


The Lisbon Volunteer Fire Department on Route 94 now has a full-time paramedic. More than half of the station's personnel are trained to use sophisticated machines to revive heart patients. And the station has a remarkably low turnover rate compared with other volunteer stations statewide.

But that's not good enough for a half-dozen residents in western Howard County who say they believe the all-volunteer station's 50 members in Lisbon need more medical training.

"Firefighters on all levels need to be trained to provide better patient care for residents in the western end," said Debbie Dibenedetto, a Lisbon activist. "For volunteers not to want to get more training to function in medical emergencies is a big concern.

"I want to ensure that all residents in the western end are ensured the same quality of patient care." Tempers flared at an open meeting last Tuesday at the Lisbon station, as volunteer firefighters, career firefighters and longtime supporters of local firefighters argued with community activists over the station's performance.

Support for station

"These volunteers do the best they can," said Ron Cashdollar, a Woodbine resident and supporter of the Lisbon station. "I listen to those boys at the station, and I know they are dedicated and gung-ho to be there for residents in the western end."

Of the 50 volunteers at the Lisbon station, three are trained as paramedics, 13 are firefighters and the remainder are trained as both firefighters and emergency medical technicians (EMTs). EMT training -- the minimal level needed to ride an ambulance -- requires 140 hours of training.

The station has a less than 5 percent turnover rate of firefighters, compared with 30 percent statewide for volunteer companies, fire officials said.

According to Dibenedetto, the station's ambulance went on four calls last year without at least two EMTs on board -- the state minimum. Dibenedetto said she obtained documents on every call at the station from the county Office of Law. But Lisbon fire officials denied that any ambulance had responded to a call with fewer than two EMTs.

'It's a pipe dream'

Fire officials said it's unrealistic to expect all volunteers to be trained at the EMT level.

"It's a pipe dream to think everyone has to be a medical expert on a fire engine," said Norman Snyder, vice president of the Lisbon Volunteer Fire Department. He said it is unnecessary for a fire engine driver, for example, to be trained as an EMT.

Fire Chief James E. Heller added: "In a volunteer organization, you have to be able to go with the volunteers you've got.

"You can't set a standard that no one's going to meet by saying everyone must have the highest level of medical training," he said. "Then what happens? No one wants to be a firefighter anymore and all the costs of running a 30-member station falls back on the county."

Pub Date: 2/18/97

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