|By Katelyn Gendron|
Reminder Assistant Editor
AGAWAM The inception of the Agawam Fire Department's Emergency Medical Services (EMS) in 1978 began a 30-year tradition of landmark advances for the department in its efforts to provide the most comprehensive life-saving procedures available.
Originally, only five paramedics strong, providing basic life support services, the department has grown into a force of 28 paramedics and has also obtained paramedic-level licensing.
In light of the department's outstanding work and commitment to patient care, the Hampden County Emergency Medical Services Committee Inc., granted the Agawam Fire Department with this year's Hampden County EMS Service of the Year Award. Katie Collins-Calbaugh, the committee's secretary, said outstanding letters of recommendation as well as the department's commitment to progress also contributed to the decision to honor the Agawam Fire Department.
"We're thrilled [to have received this award]," Fire Chief Stephen Martin, said. "We've been at the forefront of paramedic-level services in the Springfield area and it's nice to be recognized for our fine work."
He noted that this is the first time the department has received the Service of the Year Award.
Martin explained that the department receives approximately 3,000 emergency calls each year with an average on-site response time of three to five minutes.
"We've got a tremendous bunch of guys and gals [in the department]," Acting Deputy Chief Gary Brown, said. "They stand at the ready and do a terrific job."
He noted that all paramedics in the department not only have a strong commitment to the community but also to the job, which demands continuous training. Becoming a paramedic is a two-year discipline, Martin explained, adding that they are required to take refresher courses.
He said the department is always looking at how to provide patients with new life-saving technologies and procedures.
The department's most recent advance began in February when the Office of Emergency Medical Services approved Agawam paramedics to use a new procedure Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP), Acting Lt. Randall Cushing, also the recipient of this year's Hampden County Emergency Medical Services Committee Inc., Paramedic of the Year Award, said.
He explained that this procedure is used to increase respiratory ventilation when a patient is in respiratory distress or pulmonary edema, when fluid fills the lungs causing respiratory failure.
Cushing, who has been a paramedic in Agawam since the inception of EMS in 1978, said, "The Agawam Fire Department has been extremely progressive over the years. The department itself has been a pioneer of advanced services [in the Valley]."
He noted the most important fact about the department is its member's pursuit of the latest procedures.
"The people who work at the Agawam Fire Department are exceptional in a couple of ways: they are open minded about new procedures and are also very conscientious about how to care for patients. They feel this is a community service, not just a job," Cushing said.
"It's been very rewarding over the years," he continued. "The people I work with are like family. We face challenges everyday that are taxing but the support [structure] within the fire department is unprecedented."
Martin noted that the department will continue to advance its level of service to the community in fiscal year 2009 by adding a third ambulance to the fleet this month. The department has been operating with two ambulances, one in Agawam and the other in Feeding Hills.