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Celebrating a second chance on life

The West Allis Fire Department is educating its community and improving OHCA survival rates


Photo/West Allis Fire Department

The mission of the West Allis Fire Department is to safeguard the lives and property of the people we serve, to reduce community risk and incidents of emergencies, and to enhance public safety while working with community partners to improve quality of life. Our promise to our citizens is to do so with honor and compassion, while at all times conducting ourselves with the highest ethical standards.

The vision of the West Allis Fire Department is to create the safest community in the nation through the strategic use of preventative measures, community outreach and emergency mitigation.

To help accomplish our mission and vision, the West Allis Fire Department Bureau of EMS promotes innovative approaches to EMS delivery through the adoption of the latest science in medicine and technology.

The West Allis Fire Department is a certified Emergency Medical Dispatch (EMD) agency and a PulsePoint Respond agency. In addition to these advanced technological resources, the West Allis Fire Department operates all suppression units every day with a minimum of one paramedic to guarantee ALS-level skills and assessments on every critical EMS dispatch.

Additionally, in recent years, we achieved a milestone by modifying and equipping all fire suppression apparatus to handle an ALS-level medical emergency independent of a transporting ambulance. This equipment, which includes a cardiac monitor, mechanical CPR device and ALS-approved medications, demonstrates the commitment of the Bureau of EMS to shifting the paradigm of traditional EMS delivery.

Finally, the West Allis Fire Department continues to expand its public access defibrillator program and is proud to partner with both the West Allis Police Department and West Allis-West Milwaukee School District to maintain AEDs in all police squads and school buildings.

Improving KPIs

The above information is important in that it details the groundwork for several increases in our key performance indicators for strokes, STEMIs and out-of-hospital cardiac arrest. We have had excellent success and improved patient outcomes from improvements to our community-wide programs. The West Allis Fire Department also submits data to the CARES registry and Wisconsin Coverdell Stroke Program.

Overall, in the past five years, the department has seen success in multiple areas. Of note, the department has had an increase in bystander CPR rates, ROSC rates and Utstein survival rates. Furthermore, the department experienced numerous cardiac arrest incidents in which law enforcement or fire department staff vehicles arrived first and deployed an AED. Our fire units can also respond to a cardiac arrest incident ahead of a paramedic unit’s arrival and begin full resuscitative care including mechanical CPR, cardiac monitor placement, and drug administration. In 2021, our bystander CPR rate was 39%, compared to 28% in 2017. Our 2021 ROSC rate was 41% compared to 32% in 2017.

Heartwarming and rewarding

By tracking all cardiac arrest incident data in real-time through automatic reporting from ePCR data, all incidents with a return of spontaneous circulation trigger follow-up needed from our hospital partners. When outcome data indicates that a patient has a cerebral performance category of one or two, attempts will be made to have a reunion between the patient and responding EMS personnel. This may be initiated by the patient, their family, bystanders from the scene, hospital staff or the West Allis Fire Department reaching out. Since COVID-19 pandemic restrictions began to loosen, all requests for a reunion with the patient have been granted. In fact, the patients and their families have been ecstatic and look forward to the opportunity.

These reunion opportunities are up to the comfort level of the patient. Some reunions have involved the 911 dispatcher and civilians who performed CPR, others have brought family and friends, and some only involved the patient. In all occurrences, the reunion is held at the local fire station that responded to the incident. This offers a unique opportunity to see how the paramedics and EMTs spend every third day of their life and a chance to see the facility where they eat, sleep, learn and train to respond to everyday emergencies like cardiac arrest. One thing that continues to remain the same, no matter where the reunion is or how many people show up, it is always a heartwarming and rewarding experience for everyone present.

The patient and their family are so grateful for receiving a second chance at life. Paramedics additionally cherish these moments, as unfortunately, they remain too rare – and that’s our goal to change. We will share with the patient and their family how lethal out-of-hospital cardiac arrest is, and that less than 10% of people who experience OHCA will not be able to experience the same outcome as they have. This is a harsh reality as too many TV shows and movies portray cardiac arrest as easily reversible, when we all know, the positive outcome level is far too low.

To keep West Allis Fire Department paramedics and EMTs motivated to achieve greater success, and to remind them every shift they truly make a difference in the lives of patients and their families, they are given a lifesaving award at each reunion that they can then place on their locker to remind them of their meaningful impact. The benefits continue to be felt by increasing the success of our key performance indicators and another reunion pending.

The West Allis Fire Department, an ISO Class 1 agency accredited by the CFAI, protects a population of approximately 60,000 people in 11.4 square miles, and employs 105 full-time sworn members and two civilians in three fire stations.

In 2021, the West Allis Fire Department responded to 11,501 calls for service, 80% of which were requests for emergency medical service. The department operates at the ALS level and currently has 70 Wisconsin-licensed paramedics.

Kyle Novak is the deputy chief of emergency medical services for the West Allis Fire Department in West Allis, Wisconsin. Kyle has additionally served as a firefighter-paramedic, equipment operator and lieutenant. He has a keen sense for data and analytics, and leverages that to inspire others in innovation and positive change.