Mountain Medics, which is contracted to provide medical care on the Pony Fire, arrived in Happy Camp on June 8 with a state-of-the-art medical trailer complete with a two-gurney mobile ER with two cardio-monitors, and an added four-wheel-drive ambulance.“We have everything except for X-ray, and we’re looking into it,” said Mountain Medic co-founder Chad McCall, a registered nurse and paramedic.
As one of the company’s slogans puts it: “Instead of bringing your personnel to the emergency department, bring the emergency department to them.”
Incident management teams have typically ordered medical supplies and medical personnel separately, provided them with a yurt at fire camp, and, lacking anything like an ER, shipped patients requiring anything beyond basic medical care to the hospital.
Mountain Medics, and a handful of other similar medical providers, offer a complete package, which they say can save incidents time and money. Besides the ER, its specially fitted out 37-foot travel trailer is fully stocked with over-the-counter medications and staffed around the clock by their own line-qualified medical personnel, overseen by an emergency physician available through telemedicine.
Three years ago, McCall and an old friend, Aaron Stutz, found themselves working in the same emergency department at Fairchild Medical Center in Yreka. After spending more than a decade as a line medic, McCall saw the need for better mobile medical care for wildland firefighters. He and Stutz, an emergency doctor, joined with paramedic Todd Wemmer to found the company in 2014.
All three are line-qualified and have completed the arduous pack test.
“We decided we need to get out of the emergency room and go back to working in the outdoors,” said McCall, who serves as chief executive officer.
Last year, their first fire season, Mountain Medics spent more than 60 days at four fires in California. This year, 14 employees rotate in and out, so the trailer is always staffed by at least two medically qualified people. Last year, they treated as many as 800 people a day.
Of course most firefighters seeking medical care at fires don’t need an emergency room. Blisters, poison oak and heat-related injuries are the most common ailments. But the ER has been put to use at the Pony Fire. Mountain Medics treated one firefighter for anaphylactic shock and transported another to hospital, who was later diagnosed with kidney infection.
Mountain Medics provides the team with statistics that track the number and type of patients seen and type of ailments, which can pinpoint problem areas. A spike in poison oak cases, for example, can alert medics and safety officers to remind firefighters about the dangers of poison oak at morning briefing.
The company also provides cost analysis to help teams decide if its services are cost-effective, comparing daily yurt rental and staffing costs for a regular medical unit to the company’s daily rate, which includes two medical personnel. The company’s cost analysis factors in supply costs, too, and the savings on ailments treated in camp rather than hospital. With registered nurses on staff, Mountain Medics can treat more cases on-site. Once a medic starts an IV, for example, a patient must be taken to hospital. But Mountain Medics’ nurses can administer IV fluids and, by using telemedicine, perhaps avoid the need for a costly hospital visit.
Besides the mobile medical unit, Mountain Medics also offers several other services, including satellite internet, automatic external defibrillators for incident command posts, a mobile hospital of up to 2,000 square feet, several Rapid Extraction Modules and Swift Water Rescue. It also has Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) that can search for lost personnel or map 240 acres in a hour for hotspot detection.
Are mobile medical units the future of medical treatment in wildland fire? Will yurts with tables laden with sunscreen, Ibuprofen and Gold Bond powder become a thing of the past? Mountain Medics is already getting busier. Last year, it contracted to provide medical care at fires in California. This year, Washington and Oregon have also sought out its services.”
After an exhausting but fun week of meeting various members of the firefighting community, we declare the Wildland Urban Interface 2015 conference to be a success. Mountain Medics received very positive feedback and a considerable amount of interest. It also allowed us to test out our fleet for travel-worthiness.