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Louisa County fire, rescue chiefs seek help in the form of CPR machines and career staff

Posted on Monday, February 26, 2018 at 9:23 am

Hazel Podbelski, a career staffer at Louisa Volunteer Fire Department, shows how to set up a CPR device on a manikin.

A continued shortfall of personnel led several fire and rescue chiefs to make impassioned calls recently for county assistance.

The Management Oversight Group, composed of county staff and volunteer department chiefs, recommended on Feb. 15 that the county purchase up to eight new machines to perform CPR on patients. The state awarded four of the machines to the county in 2017, but officials say more are needed.

“With the amount of cardiac arrests that we’ve been having lately, and the shortage of manpower, I think it would be in the best interest to get one of these machines,” Joe Gordon, who chairs the oversight group, said.

Gordon is also the Bumpass Volunteer Fire Department chief.

Gordon said the shortage of personnel is not a new problem, though with 42 paid staff, the county is currently four short of the level it was at last fall. Seven career staff started their jobs in January, and Fire and Emergency Services Chief Keith Greene said he hopes to hire four more employees in the next month.

“It seems to be that in the rural area the county cannot afford to staff like the city can,” Gordon said on Friday. “We run at the bare minimum and do what we can with it. There are times when most of the volunteers are at work, and you don’t have the people to do CPR.”

He said three to four people should be on board an ambulance to provide chest compressions to a patient on a rotating basis. But often the only staff on board Louisa’s ambulances are the driver and one medic, who may be preoccupied with other tasks.

“You try not to have one person doing compressions for more than two minutes” at a time, Gordon said, because the quality of one person’s care diminishes over time.  “I had a young lady doing compressions by herself for 15 minutes.”

The county could seek a grant for the CPR units, which are priced at $30,000 apiece, according to Greene, if Dr. George Lindbeck, the county’s operational medical director, approves. Greene cautioned that Lindbeck, who must sign off on applications for state grants, is not a fan of the devices.

“A lot of the data does not show they are providing any benefit,” Greene said.

“That’s not our decision to make,” Susan Anderson, Holly Grove Rescue Squad chief, said. “We are here to bring people back if we can.”

She said the machines provide “perfect” chest compressions.

Gary Morris, Louisa County Rescue Squad chief, said the grant request would fare better if it emphasizes volunteers and career staff are operating in a “resource-poor environment.”

“We’re looking here at an effective use of money,” Gordon said, arguing that if the state grant covers half the $30,000 cost for each device, four new machines would be more economical for the county than hiring new paid rescue workers.

(This is a partial article. Read full story on page 6 in the Feb. 22, 2018 issue of The Central Virginian)