LAKE GENEVA, WI – The Lake Geneva Fire Department is now able to offer a higher level of care to emergency medical patients before they arrive at a hospital. The fire department on March 23 received its paramedic certification from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, and began offering the improved service effective April 1.
Fire Capt. Dennis Detkowski said Lake Geneva now becomes the first community in Walworth County with municipal paramedic service. “I think it’s great for the community. It’s great for our visitors,” Detkowski said. The improved service also is welcome news at Mercy Walworth Hospital and Medical Center, where many patients end up after an ambulance ride from the fire department.
Dr. Sean Marquis, associate EMS medical director for Mercyhealth, said the paramedic service will allow patients to receive advanced care in a more timely manner. The improvement, Dr. Marquis said, could be invaluable for someone having a stroke, heart attack or other medical emergency. “The more that can be done before a patient arrives to a hospital or medical center, the better it is for that patient,” he said.
The fire department has 16 firefighters trained as paramedics, and is looking to hire more. With the state licensing, the paramedics will be able to provide advanced care to patients who are experiencing serious medical conditions, such as respiratory conditions, allergic reactions, active seizures and traumatic injuries.
The department has been working on obtaining its paramedic certification for about a year. Fire Chief John Peters said he was pleased to see the department earn the certification and begin providing improved service to the community. “It’s always about doing the right thing,” Peters said. “This change results in patients receiving the right care at the right time, utilizing resources and personnel that we already have in place.”
In pursuing the certification, Detkowski said, the department had to submit to the state a feasibility study that included an operational plan on how paramedics would be trained, what medications paramedics would be carrying, what interventions paramedics would be using, and how the department would communicate with a hospital.
After the final plan was submitted in January, state regulators took about 60 days to approve it.
In order for an individual firefighter to become a licensed paramedic, the firefighter must complete 650 hours of classroom and skills lab work and 500 hours of clinical and field training. Detkowski said the department — which has about 60 firefighters — plans to have more trained to become paramedics.
Obtaining paramedic status will also help the department recruit more firefighters, he added. “We’re a destination city for tourism. We would like to think of ourselves as a destination city for industry,” he said. “We would like to become a destination employer.”
In January, the fire department began offering 24-hour service, with increased city funding to boost operations as a precursor to seeking the paramedic certification. Detkowski said having firefighters available throughout the day has reduced response times for the department. The average response time in March was about 51 seconds. “Any fire chief in the world would be proud of that,” he said.
Fire Lt. Peter Lechner said the 24-hour service has gotten a positive response from residents in the community. “As we’re responding to calls, community members are saying how impressed they are with how fast we’re getting to their house,” Lechner said.
With the paramedic service starting, the department already had most of the paramedic equipment, including heart monitors. Detkowski said the department now will be able to use heart monitors for more advanced procedures, such as pacing a patient’s heart. “The equipment that we have has another use,” he said. “Now we will be able to utilize that equipment to its fullest potential.”