How Baltimore FD treats patients with service animals
As one of the busiest fire rescue services in the nation, Baltimore City Fire Department employees go above and beyond to provide first-rate, front-of-hospital emergency medical care not only for the patients they serve, but also for their four legged service animals.
service animal training
The Baltimore City Fire Department has partnered with the Maryland Institute of Emergency Medical Services Systems to provide training through clinician recertification training and awareness that patients with certified service animals are treated appropriately.
The city’s fire department recognized the need to address these issues in 2012 when an operational protocol was established and dedicated to the appropriate treatment of service animals, according to James Matz, deputy fire chief for the city of Baltimore.
The memo lays out the definition of service animals, how they can be identified, and how the department transports them along with their owners for treatment.
“Policies and procedures within the BCFD are also in place to ensure our members understand the expectations when interacting with patients with certified service animals, including how to handle the animals and how to transport them safely,” Langford said.
The Americans with Disabilities Act defines a service animal as an animal that is individually trained to perform work or duties for a person with a disability. In general, companies must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas where members of the public are present. There are approximately 500,000 service animals in the United States. Dogs are the most common service animal and have been assisting people since 1927. On average, it takes almost a year and a half to train a service dog.
put training into action
On New Year’s Day, Baltimore City Medic 10 from Kaminski Station and Engine 50 from Broening Highway Station were dispatched to a rest area in southeast Baltimore because of chest pains, according to Capt. John Damario, a 35-year veteran of the department. The shipment wasn’t unique, but locating the patient and his four-legged companion proved challenging.
Drivers often sleep overnight in the parking lot, and when the units arrived there were more than 100 semi-trucks in the lot. We had trouble finding the truck,” Demario said. “We knew we had someone in this large area.”
Demario told me that his units attempted to use the answering machine’s sirens and horns to attempt this, hoping that the 911 dispatcher would hear them in the background of the phone call.
“At one point, our dispatcher said they believed the patient’s condition was getting worse,” Demario said. “Our dispatchers were able to name the transport company, and that’s how we finally found the patient.”
Medic 10 arrived first, followed by Engine 50, according to Demario. The patient was removed from the truck and his service animal, Bailey, jumped down. An Engine 50 firefighter began tending to the animal.
The critically ill patient was placed in the ambulance and the companion animal secured for transport to a local hospital. When emergency services arrived at the hospital, the patient was brought inside.
“The dog had exited the ambulance but hadn’t seen where his own had gone, so he jumped back into the ambulance…the last place he knew his owner was,” Demario recounted.
Bailey was able to escort its owner into the facility.
Demario said it’s great to be able to locate the patient, get them the help they need, and be able to transport the service animal with the patient.
With the patient’s acuteness, crew members from Engine 50 stayed with Bailey at the hospital and made sure he was well cared for. Firefighters and rescue personnel took him outside as needed and awaited direction from the facility.
Bailey was eventually turned over to facility staff so the units could be returned to service.
The Medical Director of the Baltimore Fire Department, Dr. Benjamin Lawner, remarked, “This is a great call that demonstrates the flexibility of our providers and how EMS is constantly expanding to meet the needs of the community. I think it’s a tribute to the staff that caters to this patient’s needs. Kudos to the first responders who met all of the patient’s needs.”
Lawner added the clinicians recognized the patient was critically ill, and sustaining the patient’s life included his clinical condition as well as his social life, Bailey.
“We are very proud of our members who serve the people of Baltimore every day. We continue to improve our capabilities in responding to incidents involving members of the public with disabilities and access and functionality needs,” said Rich Langford, President of the Baltimore City Fire Department, IAFF Local 734. “Technology has helped us in many ways . The resources provided by the Maryland Department of Disabilities and the Maryland Institute of Emergency Medical Services Systems have been instrumental in preparing our members to best serve the community.”
The Baltimore City Fire Department is among the busiest fire-fighting emergency services in the United States, averaging nearly 350,000 calls in nearly 200,000 rescue calls. The city ranks fourth behind New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.
Baltimore City operates 28 advanced life support and basic life support ambulances with 1,514 employees at 38 stations strategically located throughout the city. According to Matz, municipal firefighting equipment often supplements rescue units during incidents of high acute severity or during periods of high call volume.
The city’s ambulances travel to some of the busiest emergency departments in the state of Maryland, including MedStar Franklin Square, Sinai Hospital of Baltimore, University of Maryland Medical Center, and Johns Hopkins Hospital. The city is also home to the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center, the only primary adult resource center in Maryland, and the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, the primary referral center for pediatric trauma patients, and the Johns Hopkins Burn Center on the Bayview campus.
The fire service is divided into seven battalions – six fire and one ambulance – serving a population of more than 575,000 in a land area of 81 square miles.
“While every effort is made to safely transport an animal, it may not always be possible for the patient, animal and crew,” Langford said. Our members now have the resources to ensure the service animal can be transported and properly cared for. Another aspect of the training is coordinating with the receiving hospital to ensure they are prepared to use the service.”