Tom Quillin, chief of Leon County Emergency Medical Service (LCEMS) in Tallahassee, FL, is winner of the 2011 EMS Executive of the Year Award. Sponsored by the National EMS Management Association and Nasco, the award will be presented at the EMS World Expo Opening Keynote on August 31. Tom receives a $1,000 award stipend, a three-day core program registration to EMS World Expo, plus $1,000 for travel and lodging to attend EMS World Expo and the NAEMT Annual Meeting.
When Quillin became chief of LCEMS in 2005, the organization was facing numerous challenges. His predecessor and another top officer had been fired, turnover was high and morale was low. "EMTs and paramedics were uncertain about their future at LCEMS, and it was difficult to find enough medics to staff the trucks on duty," his staff reported. "It was a daily occurrence for office staff to stop work and take ambulance calls. The service was floundering, and it was doubtful if it would continue to thrive."
Quillin and his team knew they needed to make changes. Among them: replacing an aging fleet of ambulances with newer, safer models; instituting other safety measures like power-lift gurneys; and encouraging continuing education, including a tuition reimbursement program to give employees a chance for personal growth while on the job.
The results were quickly evident: Back injuries fell, turnover decreased and morale improved.
Quillin followed in his fire chief father's footsteps, becoming a firefighter with the Lake Forest (IL) Fire Department and assistant chief six years later. He became a certified EMT and earned an associate's degree in fire protection technology and bachelor's degree in technical education from Oklahoma State, and an MBA from Lake Forest Graduate School of Management. He later became fire chief in Rolling Meadows and Skokie, IL. In 1990, he was named chief of the Tallahassee Fire Department. During his 15-year tenure, the department began answering medical calls for the first time in its history. After retiring as Tallahassee's chief, Quillin took the job with LCEMS. Today, he oversees the $15 million budget of an agency that serves some 274,000 residents of Tallahassee and the surrounding county, covering a 702-square-mile region. LCEMS answers 31,000 calls a year and transports just over 22,000 patients.
The Executive of the Year Award was a career highlight. "I was blown away when I was notified that I had been selected," he says. "I had no idea I had been nominated. Naturally, I am extremely honored and humbled."
How did you turn things around when you became chief?
Turnover was high and administrators had to staff the trucks, so we added people and increased the number of trucks on the street until we finally had adequate units on duty.
We had regular command staff meetings and developed a strategic plan for the agency that covers staffing, how we'll run the organization, and goals and objectives for the future.
We're upgrading our fleet from smaller units to medium-duty ambulances with a larger box and larger chassis. We included airbags for the back of the ambulance and implemented automated CPR devices so we don't have paramedics standing in the back of moving ambulances.
Your colleagues credit you with better integrating EMS into the hospital and community. Describe what you did.
We worked with Tallahassee Memorial Hospital and Capital Regional Medical Center to get chest pain accreditation with the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations. Every other week, our quality manager and hospital staff review all cardiac cases to see the results of what we're doing in the field and how patients are treated through the entire continuum of care.
We do 12-lead EKG transmissions from the field to the hospital to reduce door-to-needle times for STEMI patients. At the beginning of the program, fewer than 50% of patients with chest pain reached the cath lab before 90 minutes; it's now 98%.
Our return of spontaneous circulation rate is 21%; the national average is 3% to 7%. We anticipate doing hypothermia therapy in the field in the next few months.
What makes a great EMS leader?
You have to take a genuine interest in your people. You must be accessible to them, help with their problems, encourage them and give them opportunities for career enhancement, and challenge them to do things outside their comfort zone so they grow in the agency and can do more in their job.