Awhitu Volunteer Rural Fire Force Adds Value for its Community

  Posted on 9th September 2010 by Loralee Hyde in UFBA News

Fire Chief Howard Logan and his brigade found a way to better serve the residents of the Awhitu Peninsula in South Auckland – and it’s all based on building solid relationships.

Firefighters know just how valuable every second is in emergency situations.  But how do you improve response time to medical emergencies when you’re covering a large, isolated area and the nearest ambulance station is 28 kilometres away?  That’s the challenge for Chief Howard Logan and the Awhitu Volunteer Rural Fire Force.

The brigade handles a minimum of 30 medical calls each year in the Awhitu Peninsula outside of Auckland - spanning 20 kilometres from north to south and seven kilometres from east to west. 

“The closest ambulance station is 28 kilometres south of the fire station in Waiuku, and it’s another 10 K to the top of the peninsula,” says Logan.  “Even when the ambulance really goes for it, it could take up to an hour for the paramedics to arrive at a medical call, especially when they’re travelling through unfamiliar terrain.

“There are also times when the Waiuku ambulance is at another call, so the paramedics come from the Middlemore Hospital – 80 kilometres away.”

Distances and travelling times can be deceptive looking at the map - the Awhitu Peninsula looks so close to Auckland - just across the Manukau Harbour - but it’s a long way around by road.

“That’s why it’s so important for our brigade to respond to calls quickly.  With cardiac arrests, you only have seven minutes,” says Logan.

Ten years ago, the need for speed led Logan and his brigade to find a better way of serving local residents.  They came up with the idea of creating a network in the community that would enable them to get first responders to incidents more quickly - a system that they’ve continued to improve over time.

The network includes 30 brigade members, two registered nurses, one member of Land Search & Rescue, and three local women who volunteered to take turns acting as coordinators. 

The idea behind the system is to get someone from the brigade to every medical incident as soon as possible – with or without the brigade’s medical vehicle.

To do this, Logan created a grid where brigade members – all first aid trained, and four of them certified in pre-hospital emergency care (PHEC) – are segmented based on where they live. 

The coordinator on duty carries a medical pager and, when a medical call comes in, refers to the grid and calls the firefighters who live in the immediate area.  These first responders go straight to the location, identify the property, provide reassurance to the family, and administer first aid.

At the same time, the nurses and PHEC-certified firefighters  - also equipped with medical pagers – contact the coordinator on duty to determine whether additional support is required. 

And as part of standard operating procedure, the coordinator calls around to get someone close by the station to pick up the medical vehicle.  If she feels she can’t get a good enough response, she calls the Fire Service and asks for all 30 of the brigade’s firefighters to be dispatched.

“The coordinators are the key to the whole system, and while it’s not perfect, it’s worked out well for us so far,” Logan says.  “Getting first responders to medical incidents right away puts people at ease.  It’s so valuable having those first people on the scene because they can assess the situation quickly and identify what extra resources may be needed to handle it properly.”

“In one situation, our people turned up and knew right away that the Westpac helicopter would be needed.  By saving time in that case, we ended up saving a life.”

Twenty-one years ago, Logan was one of the founding members of the brigade, and over the decades, he’s learned the importance of maintaining good relationships.  The Awhitu Rural Fire Force has fostered very positive relationships with the Westpac helicopter, the Waiuku Volunteer Fire Brigade, and the ambulance service.

“It’s a lot of people coming together to serve our community better,” Logan says.  “All the people and organizations we work with are important pieces of the puzzle, and we couldn’t do what we do without one of those pieces.”  

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