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Life savers unwrap new equipment

An event next week gives people a chance to step into a paramedic's shoes, or at least to see and touch their equipment.

The River Falls Emergency Medical Services (EMS) holds an open house 4-8 p.m. Thursday, May 22, at its station, 175 E. Locust St.

Ambulance Director Jeff Rixmann said the event celebrates Emergency Medical Services Week and gives everyone a chance to tour the station and meet their paramedics, EMTs and area First Responders.

People can get free blood pressure checks during those hours and free first-come-first-served car-seat checks from 5-7 p.m.

"We got four new pieces of equipment," Rixmann said about what people will see.

He said funds for the compact dual-purpose ventilator, a heart machine, a transfer flat and two "stair-chairs" come from state grants and community donations. Rixmann says the event gives citzens a chance to see what that money buys.

He said ambulance personnel also commemorate the week by going to all the schools and giving a safety presentation to third graders. Each child gets a free, grant-funded book they can read at home with their parents.

New tools

The ventilator gives medical personnel precise control over the air in a person's lungs.

The machine reduces guesswork and keeps crews from having to pump air manually. It breathes for a person who can't or helps those having difficulty, like a respiratory patient for example.

"This just frees up a hand to help the patient," Rixmann said.

The ventilator replaces two pieces of equipment, can be used on children or adults and is more compact, making it easier for the easy grab-'n'-go often needed.

Ambulance workers used the $6,000 machine for the first time Friday night, helping keep a critical patient alive until a bed opened at a critical-care hospital.

The new heart machine acts as a combination defibrillator and heart monitor. It includes a screen and printout to keep track of heart rate plus measures a person's oxygen and exhaled carbon dioxide.

The $16,900 piece of equipment consolidates several machines into one and gives the crews improved capability to help and monitor heart patients. It takes blood pressure, measures heart rate and works as a pacemaker if needed.

Rixmann said, "It can pace someone's heart if it isn't beating right."

The transfer flat resembles a big tarp with 12 handles and is used to help move big patients. Rixmann said the issues involved with obese patients are growing, not just in River Falls but nationwide.

"We deal with it all time," he said.

Technicians put the $500 flat into service a few weeks ago and use it at least twice a week.

The "stair-chair" keeps paramedics and EMTs from having to bear a patient's full weight up or down stairs. Crews use it when a patient can't walk on their own or when a stretcher won't fit in the stairwell.

"It saves a lot of backs," agreed Rixmann about the $2,200 device that unlike its older counterparts, has a track system help bear the load and guide the chair. "These are a lot lighter weight and easier to use."

The volunteer EMS staff anticipates that the City Council will approve a new ambulance slated for delivery in 2009. The plan keeps with the service's standard of using the vehicles for 12 years and ordering a new one every three years.

Dollars, preparedness and recruiting

Rixmann said, "I do a lot of grant writing, and we also get a lot of community donations...Community support is key."

He says without those funds, prices for service would be higher because those items would hit the local budget. Rixmann confirms that the EMS reported price increases recently but that River Falls' service costs less than in most communities.

He said fuel and Medicare losses -- services it doesn't cover -- are the two main factors driving up prices. He thinks, "Everyone is struggling to balance costs."

Rixmann said, "You have to be prepared for anything at any time."

He gives the community a lot of credit for its support, both financial and volunteer. Both kinds of help go a long way in being prepared, the director says.

He welcomes anyone to the open house who's interested in joining the local team paramedics, EMTs or First Responders (in the towns of River Falls, Clifton, Pleasant Valley, Troy and Warren).

He said the next round of classes begins late August or early September and can be free for people willing to make a two-year commitment to the River Falls EMS.

People can get more information either by visiting during open house, picking up a brochure, logging onto, or calling the station at 425-0370.