When young kids say they want to be firefighters when they grow up, they may not imagine themselves providing flu shots to economically disadvantaged residents to keep hospitalizations low during a global pandemic—but for the Victoria Fire Department, it’s all in a day’s work.
Although many residents may not realize it, the fire department is equipped to respond to a variety of health care crises, which is why we’ve been working closely with the Victoria County Public Health Department on our region’s COVID-19 response. The flu shot clinic was a natural fit because our paramedics are trained to administer injections and we have the resources and mobility to conduct pop-up clinics. Whether we’re responding to a pandemic or connecting a resident with community services after a 911 call, protecting public health is deeply interwoven with our mission.
The City of Victoria merged its fire and EMS agencies in 1995, and the Victoria Fire Department has been responsible for both services ever since. Our firefighter/EMTs are fully cross-trained to respond to fire and medical calls, a common strategy that allows us to provide more efficient and effective service.
Our response to 911 calls makes us the primary health care contact for many residents, particularly lower-income Victorians. When a person doesn’t have a primary care physician or the means to travel to a hospital or emergency room, their only recourse for illness or injury is to call 911. We’d like to head off these emergencies before they happen by using our resources and experience to improve public health.
The flu shot clinics were a step in the right direction, and we’d like to host more of these types of events in the future. The clinics this year were part of our community’s coronavirus response and were funded through the CARES Act, so we will need to find a different funding source to continue the effort.
We’ve also started an initiative to put residents in touch with services that can help them avoid relying on 911. If we receive frequent 911 calls from the same resident—for example, an older resident who lives alone with no one to check on them—we will visit them to assess the safety of their home environment and connect them with assisted living services and other resources based on their situation.
To better equip residents to respond to health care emergencies, we recently rebranded our popular Civilian Fire Academy as the Citizen Responder program, placing a greater emphasis on first aid. We’ve seen firsthand how a few minutes can mean the difference between life and death, and we hope to empower residents to take action in a crisis. Residents who participate in this program; Citizens Academy, led by Communications & Public Affairs; and the Civilian Police Academy will be recognized as Distinguished Citizens at a City Council meeting.
We plan to host the program next year Feb. 1, 8, 15 and 27 and will share more information as it becomes available. We can also host it for individual businesses, churches and other community organizations; if this is something you’d be interested in for your group, please call us at 361-485-3470 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Victoria Fire Department has a vested interest in protecting the health of the people we serve. I’m excited about the new initiatives we’ve started in the past year, and I look forward to finding new ways we can get involved in improving public health.
Robert T. Fox is the fire chief for the City of Victoria Fire Department.
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