Hospital EMS Fire Brigade Serving Casino and County
Posted on Thursday, March 19th, 2009
That One’s Mine: Scott Neu, Paramedic (left) is first out on ambulance calls and Adam Zimmerer, EMT is first out on fire calls from the WinStar station. They are members of the hospital-managed EMS and Fire Brigade serving WinStar casino properties and southern Love County.
EMS Manager Tad Hall, PA and Training Officer Dusty Michael
Fire and Ambulance: Some of the members of the new hospital-managed EMS and Fire Brigade at WinStar Casino include Ryan Weger, Bobby Sharp, Adam Zimmerer, Scott Neu , Fire Training Officer Dusty Michael, Captain Obie Heath, and EMS Training Officer John Gilliam. Behind them rises the 12-story hotel under construction next to the casino and piping infrastructure for an RV park.
Fire trucks have been rolling since the first of the year from WinStar World Casinos.
Behind the wheel and manning the hoses and ladders are EMTs and Paramedics from Mercy Health/Love County Hospital, Clinic and EMS.
They are operating a hospital-based EMS Fire Brigade – perhaps the first in the nation. EMTs and Paramedics have been cross-trained as firefighters. Firefighters who join the organization must have, as a prerequisite, licensure as an EMT or Paramedic.
Their primary service area is WinStar Casino and surrounding hotels, restaurants, golf course, and other businesses and structures, under a contractual arrangement with the Chickasaw Nation.
But the EMS Fire Brigade also responds to medical or fire emergencies within 10 miles of the casino, providing mutual aid to the Thackerville and Shady Dale volunteer fire departments.
“Love County is getting the benefit of expanded ambulance and fire coverage without added taxation or cost,” said EMS manager Tad Hall, PA.
The hospital has hired 15 more employees for the EMS since last fall, bringing to 28 the total of fulltime EMTs and Paramedics in the department. Nine serve at the Marietta station, and 19 (including 13 in the fire brigade) at the WinStar Casino station.
For some, like Marietta’s Bobby Sharp, becoming a fulltime EMT/firefighter is the culmination of a lifelong dream.
For 26 years, Sharp operated the local lumber company and for most of that time also served as chief of the Marietta volunteer fire department.
Now he’s driving the new fire engines and has completed training as an emergency medical technician. “I’m excited to do what I always wanted to do,” Sharp said.
The Chickasaw Nation has been contracting with the hospital since 2004, first for ambulance and first aid service at the casino, and now, as the property has developed (soon to include a 12-story hotel), for fire prevention, fire suppression, and rescue.
Equipment supplied with the contract has included two ambulances, a fire engine (pumper), ladder truck, and brush truck.
Housing this expansion is a new emergency services building for ambulance, fire, and Chickasaw Lighthorse Police. It opened south of the casino in January.
Of benefit to the 13 volunteer fire departments in Love County, the Chickasaw Nation has also pledged support for a fire training officer for fulltime instruction of the fire brigade and area fire departments, Hall said.
“The training opportunities being planned are a blessing for all fire departments. We’ve wanted that for a long time but couldn’t get it done with just volunteers,” said Dusty Michael, Fire Brigade Training Officer.
Michael joined the fire brigade last fall with 15 years of experience as a volunteer firefighter with the Marietta fire department, which he continues to serve as assistant chief. He was trained as an EMT through the hospital Training Center and as a fire instructor through OSU Fire Service Training.
“Most of the EMTs and Paramedics were already volunteer firefighters in their communities and continue to volunteer in their off-duty hours,” Hall said.
One of the new hires, Taylor Westbrook, once worked at the casino he now protects. “I used to be a floor attendant. I paid my way through fire academy in Sherman and EMT school in Dallas. I finished school in July, then the fire brigade started. I’m very pleased with all that’s happening. It’s amazing what they do for us here, and it’s exciting to watch the WinStar area grow,” he said.
Members of the fire brigade work 24 hour assignments at the WinStar station then have two days off. They spend eight hours every shift in training to handle medical and fire emergencies.
Videoconferencing equipment links the classroom at the WinStar station with the hospital training center in Marietta and beyond.
“This is the best work there is. It has lots of appeal,” Westbrook said.
The fire “brigade” is based on the concept of drawing on an existing group of personnel to provide fire service for an organization. In the case of the hospital, the EMS has established a fire brigade from among its EMTs and Paramedics, Hall explained.
As professional firefighters, they are the only 24-hour paid service in the county.
Richard Barker, hospital administrator, believes the fire brigade may be the first in the country to have been formed from a hospital’s emergency medical services workers.
The EMS/Fire Brigade recruits through the website, www.lovecountyems.com.