By Lea Johnson
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Firefighters are often associated with burning buildings and big red trucks. However, out of more than 900 calls the Peterson Fire Department responded to in 2012, about 475 were medical calls.
According to James Ragsdale, 21st Civil Engineer Squadron fire prevention and Emergency Medical Technician instructor, Peterson Air Force Base has a mutual aid agreement with the city of Colorado Springs American Medical Response.
“AMR will respond when we call them. They have a 12 minute response time. From the time the 911 call (is made) to the time they show up, we are it,” he said.
Of the 475 medical calls the fire department responded to last year, responders saved three lives and delivered one baby on base.
Additionally, the Peterson fire department responds to emergencies at the Colorado Springs airport and within the Cimarron Hills neighborhood.
Each of the firefighters is required to be certified in first aid, CPR and emergency medical response.
In 2011, the fire department started an Emergency Medical Technician certification course. Ragsdale and Staff Sgt. Matthew Quackenbush, 21st CES fire department NCO in charge of special operations, are the two instructors for the EMT class.
“There are more things you can do as an EMT; there are certain procedures you can do that are more advanced,” Ragsdale said.
But there’s another advantage for Airmen who are EMT certified. In the civilian world, EMT certification has become a requirement at many fire departments. Ragsdale said Airmen who already have the certification will be more employable.
In the first year, 12 Airmen took the course and 8 became certified.
In November, 15 Airmen started the six-week class. “Per student, it’s 180 hours of training,” Ragsdale said. “They do it all together, eight hours a day, five days a week. Not only were they going to class but they were still doing their jobs. They were still on trucks responding to calls.”
Airmen are required to maintain a grade of 75 percent during the course. Ragsdale said the national average is 50 percent but the average for the Airmen here is 87 percent.
To complete the certification, Airmen must take the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians exam.
“To be honest, it’s the hardest test that I’ve ever seen in my life. I’ve been an EMT since 1996 and I would not want to redo that test,” Ragsdale said.
Airmen have to pass each of 10 sections of the test with a score of 70 percent in order to become certified. If they fail one section, they fail the whole test. The test can be retaken three times.
After the exam is passed, 72 hours of training is required every two years to maintain EMT certification.
The course is open to everyone in the fire department.
Staff Sgt. Chase Flores, 21st CES firefighter, said, “I wanted to have more understanding when we go on medical (calls) and am not lost when I’m on scene. So I’m actually hands-on and familiar with the medical aspect of firefighting.”
Ragsdale said if each of the 15 Airmen would have taken the EMT course within the community, it would have cost $34,000. But because he and Quackenbush are certified instructors, the course is free of charge for the Airmen or the Air Force.
Having more Airmen with specialized technical training on Peterson keeps the community a little safer.
“If it takes AMR 12 minutes to respond and a person isn’t getting oxygen, a lot of damage can be done in 12 minutes,” Ragsdale said.
The fire department currently has 23 EMTs, though the number fluctuates due to deployments and permanent changes of station. Once the 15 Airmen take and pass their registry exam, they will be an asset not only to Peterson, but to the Air Force.