Fire Department Program Helps Prevent Illness and Injury

The Kent Fire Department is a community partner, providing effective and sustainable fire and EMS that maximize the resources entrusted to us, to serve the needs of a changing community.

-Kent (WA) Fire Dept. Vision Statement

Currently, medical incidents represent more than 70% of our fire department’s responses. Many of these responses could be prevented, and many others could be addressed using other available and more affordable resources. To maximize our resources and improve our response to emergencies that require more immediate attention, the Kent Fire Department is now offering nonemergency assistance to help prevent medical incidents from taking place.

The program is called FDCARES, for Fire Department Community Assistance, Referrals and Education Services. It involves direct interaction by the fire department with members of our community before they need to call 9-1-1. Members of our community such as seniors often have medical needs that, if unmet, turn into emergencies, but could be recognized and solved beforehand far more economically and efficiently. By doing this, the FDCARES program saves thousands of dollars by reducing residents’ medical expenses.

Preventing emergencies has a ripple effect. It helps reduce emergency transportation, emergency room visits, and associated costs to both individuals and insurers. This prevention can also help keep EMS providers available for other calls and alleviate the problems of emergency department overcrowding and ambulance diversion.

How It Works

Prior to FDCARES, the Kent Fire Department had two programs to deal with these kinds of health issues. One addressed fall prevention for those who had fallen or were at risk of falling. The other was a recurrent-customer assistant program for people who demonstrated frequent need of the 9-1-1 system. Through these programs we realized that our responses could address an individual’s immediate needs, but not their underlying cause. In addition, while these programs could identify and assist some of our residents, we were missing opportunities to help others. FDCARES was born when the programs were combined and services were expanded to assist any resident who would benefit from injury and illness prevention.

When a member of our community activates the 9-1-1 system for a minor injury or illness, it’s frequently because they have nowhere else to turn. An individual’s first low-acuity medical call to 9-1-1 is often a predictor of future 9-1-1 use. We find that people are frequently not aware there are other, more appropriate services available to address their needs. Various types of social services are available from city and county governments, the state, the federal government, and private actors like churches and charities.

With direct interaction through FDCARES, the fire department can identify an individual’s needs and act on their behalf after the 9-1-1 call is done. That may be as simple as a follow-up phone call, or may be more involved as circumstances dictate. As needed, we can contact primary care doctors or other healthcare professionals. We can work with insurance providers to obtain necessary medical equipment. We can help obtain and install various fall-prevention devices. We can connect members of our community directly to low-cost medication programs and a large number of social services. Our range of partnerships with other community healthcare providers and list of available resources continue to grow, and this type of follow-up has a positive effect on the lives of the individuals we serve.

Many members of our community are aware of the program and have referred themselves for assistance. Others are referred by family members, loved ones, friends, caregivers or other healthcare professionals. The majority come from FD personnel after 9-1-1 responses. We have created a user-friendly tool by which providers can report residents they feel would benefit from our services directly to FDCARES staff.

Those staff are members of the Kent Fire Department Regional Fire Authority. However, much of what we can do is thanks to our relationships with agencies such as Kent Housing and Human Services, sponsorships from our business community and the generous support of residents. These funds have allowed us to spread the word about our services.

EMS services are being forced to change. As we address the needs of our residents, we must work to reduce costs. As we become more aware of the causes of various injuries and illnesses, and as our education and ingenuity expand, we are better able to develop and implement newer, less expensive concepts for services. FDCARES is the next generation of Kent’s fire and emergency medical system. It is designed to maximize resources while saving tax dollars.

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Mitch Snyder is a battalion chief with the Kent Fire Department and EMS officer for FDCARES. Reach him at