COMANCHE COUNTY, OK (KSWO) - A new state regulation could force those needing immediate medical attention to wait longer to receive help.
The new regulation will require any fire department responding to a medical emergency to have a medical director on staff and be EMR-A certified through the State of Oklahoma. That means fire departments not certified will not be able to provide medical assistance, forcing those in need to wait for an ambulance or a certified fire department arrives to receive help.
The Oklahoma Department of Health said the regulation will now ensure that everyone who arrives to give medical attention has the necessary training and tools to complete the job. Comanche County Emergency Management Director Michael Merritt said he is now worried about response times, with there currently being only 4 certified departments covering the entire county.
The new regulation means that even if there is a medical emergency right down the street from a fire department that is uncertified, that department cannot offer assistance until an ambulance arrives.
"This last week we had some ambulance response times as much as 48 minutes from the time they were dispatched to the time they arrived on the scene," Merritt said. "You're looking at 48 minutes until the first arriving medical personnel gets on scene."
Merritt said every response time is obviously not going to be 48 minutes, but this new regulation could present that possibility due to a shortage of available ambulances at some points during the day.
"We're calling from out of the county, calling units from Rush Springs, units from Apache, units from Kiowa County to come all the way to Comanche County to assist and be able to transport people to the hospital at a reasonable time," Merritt said.
The new regulation also allows state officials to visit certified fire departments to ensure their equipment and medical supplies are up to date, which Merritt said he agrees is important. To be certified, the departments also have to have a medical director on staff, who would be liable for the actions of the department, which Merritt said small volunteer departments simply can't afford.
"Therefore you have to find someone who is willing to volunteer or willing to help out a bit because they're only making 10, maybe 15 runs a month," Merritt said. "That's a lot to be doing, a lot of paperwork and protocols to follow for that much business."
Merritt said in his opinion, this new regulation could make people actually rethink how they handle emergency situations.
"People are going to have to start rethinking whether they are going to wait for an ambulance to get there or whether they're going to load them up in their own personal vehicle and take them to the hospital. In a way, we could be reverting back 30 years from where we were," Merritt said.
Merritt said this will also affect ambulance drivers who usually have already received medical information from the fire departments when they arrive on the scene. Before, they could quickly load the patient up and get them to the hospital. Now they will have to perform all of the actions the fire department could have performed before they arrived.
A few other local departments are also close to receiving their certification. Merritt said he will be meeting with local fire chiefs next week to figure out exactly what needs to be done to get as many certified as possible before the regulation goes into effect on September 11th.