The Town of Hope Seeking to Be Self-Sufficient in Emergency Response
By Jeannine Stafford-Jabaay
The volunteer-run Hope Sunrise Emergency Services (HSES) is actively working toward an improved response system. HSES is the composition of both medical and fire support. In its original design, HSES was created to respond to wildfires. It is still currently Kenai Peninsula Borough sanctioned for wildfire, but HSES is seeking state certification to transport patients.
At this point, HSES can provide basic life support in a medical situation, but they are not able to move a patient to get medical care. They must wait for the Girdwood Fire and Rescue to arrive – a timeline that can be as much as an hour or more. In only life-threatening situations is the HSES able to transport a patient to the Hope airstrip for medi-vac via LifeMed Alaska, which is dispatched out of Wolf Lake.
In order for a town to be able to adequately respond to medical emergencies, several things must be in place. First, there must be a way to receive emergency calls. In other words, when someone dials 911, someone has to answer that call. Second, there must be a trained professional available to care for any injuries, particularly life-threatening trauma. Third, proper equipment and medical tools must be readily available.
Fourth, medical responders must be able to move the patient to a hospital for treatment when necessary. And finally, medical responders must have a facility and infrastructure to properly clean themselves, their personal protective equipment and the equipment used in the emergency.
“Most of our calls are for an ambulance,” shares Brendan Maguire, Fire Chief of the HSES. “But this is not the service we are designed for. We need to change that. We need different equipment, additional training and improved facilities.” So how does HSES move from wildfire response only to a complete emergency responder, covering fire, rescue and medical care?
Currently, all 911 calls in the Hope and Sunrise areas are received by the Soldotna Dispatch. In recent years, that dispatcher would then call Rochelle Morris, a local Hope volunteer. Morris would then call down the list of trained responders until she could reach someone who was available. Less than three months ago, Morris moved out of Hope leaving a question about how Hope would now receive emergency calls.
“We are moving away from a single point of contact to an app-based system, which is the next stage of dispatch,” shares Maguire. This app is able to “tone out just Hope,” allowing dispatchers to communicate about just the calls received for the Hope and Sunrise service areas. “This radio band app requires an FCC license for a particular radio channel,” tells Maguire. “We are working toward this right now, as is Moose Pass. Nikiski has long been up and running. Rochelle has been a great resource for this transition and moving forward.”
Once the new emergency dispatch system is completely functional, the next hurdle is having enough trained professionals. With a residency hovering around 200 year-round Hope locals, finding and training volunteers has historically been a challenge. But recently, HSES has partnered with the Eastern Peninsula Highway Emergency Services Area (EPHESA), which has provided training and funding to increase volunteer readiness.
“We have been able to offer free ETT and EMT1 classes,” says Maguire. “In fact, we have a 40-hour ETT class for interested individuals at the end of this month. We currently have four people signed up for that.” One of those signed up for that ETT training is Dwayne McBride, whom Maguire describes as being a “steadfast, always here when you need him guy” with the plan to have McBride be a go-to ambulance driver.
HSES currently has two ETTs, Levi Hogan and Travis Peterson, and two EMT1s, Calvin Walton and Brendan Maguire. “Travis, Calvin and Levi are who handle the lion’s share of the calls,” says Maguire. “This is built on the backs of people that are volunteering their time and their energy. No one is doing this professionally. We’re all trying to make a hand where we can.”
Once the responders are trained, a medical doctor must sponsor the HSES, stating that they certify that the volunteers are adequate able to service the area. Dr. O’Malley, whose family has been long-time residents, has been the sponsoring physician for the Hope EMS for years now. But HSES is currently transitioning to Dr. Michael Levy, who is the Soldotna-based Emergency Medical Doctor currently overseeing all of the EPHESA. This change will allow the standard operating procedures of HSES to be consistent with the directive of the other service areas.
With the right people in place, the HSES must also focus on proper equipment. Within the last year, the HSES has received three significant equipment donations that have situated them to better handle the move from wildfire response only to complete emergency service response. The Houston Fire Department donated to HSES a fire engine. Bear Creek Fire Department donated a pumper, and Anchorage Fire Chief Jodie Hettrick donated an ambulance.
Through the support of the EPHESA, HSES was able to get the ambulance up and running. And once the ambulance is state certified, the EPHESA will provide additional funding to assure the ambulance is fully equipped. That certification is currently in process. Other fire departments have also generously donated hose, equipment and personal protective equipment to HSES.
With the dispatch, trained professionals and equipment actively coming into place, HSES has concentrated on state certification to transport a patient. This requires a National Provider ID number. This cumbersome federal application was recently completed, and HSES has now been issued an ID number. This means that down the road, once the other areas of focus are secured, HSES can respond to anything on the Hope Highway and along the Seward Highway to Ingram Creek, which is approximately 30 miles from Hope.
Ingram Creek is currently the end of the service area for the Girdwood Volunteer Fire and Rescue (GVF&R). So essentially, the HSES will soon be able to respond to any emergency call, care for patients on-site, and transfer them to Ingram Creek where the GVF&R will then take the patient the remaining distance to Anchorage hospitals.
The final hurdle is the need for a facility that allows for proper cleanup of the medical responders, their personal protective equipment and the equipment and vehicles used in a response.
“We need showers for the volunteers. They have to be able to clean themselves up after a call,” says Maguire. “They also need to be able to clean their clothes in a washer and dryer here at the fire hall. I can go home and shower, but not all of our volunteers have running water. For that, we need a septic and a shower and laundry facility.”
Each of these steps towards total sustainability in emergency care requires a lot of time, man-power, and, of course, money. “Financially, our department is as sound as it has ever been,” shares Maguire. HSES receives their funds from private donations, the non-profit Hope Inc., and substantially from EPHESA.
Maguire has received two quotes for a new septic install, both ranging in the $15,000 mark. One town local, Kristy Peterson, has been working on tracking down grant money in addition to the operating budget for the new wash facility.
“We need to be self-sufficient,” states Maguire, “able to take care of our own community. We are doing this – one step at a time.”
The free 40-hour ETT training will be held Mar. 30-31 and Apr. 6-7 for ten hours each day. This same training will be offered at the end of the summer. For current ETTs, an EMT1 bridge class will be offered, providing the additional 80 hours required to become an EMT1. Contact Brendan Maguire at (907) 229-9232 for information on the class and how to become involved.