For Immediate Release: Chief Jenifer Collins-Brown announces the attainment of a long standing goal of the Topsfield Fire Department. As of November 27, 2018 all full-time members of the department are certified at the paramedic level of emergency medical care. This benchmark of having 100% of the full-time staff paramedic certified represents a lengthy process both for the department and individuals who worked to become certified at this high level of pre-hospital medical care. Each member was required to complete months of classroom time followed by hundreds of clinical hours in the hospital setting, hundreds more third riding with ambulance services, and finally completing a written examination and a separate practical or “hands-on” examination to receive their certification. The benefit of these services being available from the department directly affect the citizens we serve. In a less than urban setting like Topsfield, minutes can be the difference between life and death when suffering from a serious medical emergency. With no contracted ambulances able to financially dedicate a unit to the town 100% of the time, there is a gap in readiness to respond to life threatening emergencies that happen in town. This gap is filled with the capabilities now possessed by Chief Collins-Brown, Lieutenants Conor Brown and Tom Ash, and Firefighters John Boyle and Mike Bonaiuto. In addition to the full time paramedics, TFD also has 3 call firefighters that are certified paramedics, Captain Darrell Moore and Firefighters Roland Courtemanche and Paul Connor. As members are certified, they must meet for credentialing with the Department’s Medical Director. With that director’s blessing, after another written exam followed by an interview, a certified member may now operate at their respective level of care. The delivery of emergency medical care remains a critical function of the Topsfield Fire Department as we are the first line of defense in medical emergencies and often the quickest ambulance to arrive at a scene with our staff, as TFD’s ambulance is located in town. These skills are tested on a daily basis with call volumes that today’s department responds to higher than ever. Just last week on December 13th, TFD responded to a cardiac arrest in the parking lot of Little Brook Village on Washington Street. Lt. Ash, FF Boyle, and Chief Collins-Brown responded in Ambulance 1 and Car 1 respectively and within minutes had the victim successfully resuscitated within 15 minutes of arriving on scene. The patient is now awake and doing well in the hospital, a true testament of hard work, good training, and preparedness for life and death situations. Below is a timeline accumulated, showing the development and evolution of EMS in the Town of Topsfield.
In 1973 the Department of Transportation developed regulations that stated all medical care must be provided in an ambulance. This disallowed the practice, which was common at the time, of transporting patients in police cruisers. In 1973, members of Topsfield Fire Department attended the first EMT course run by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and held at the Hunt Hospital, now the Hunt Rehab in Danvers. This was in preparation of providing emergency medical care to the citizens of Topsfield.
After completion of the training, in 1975 the Selectmen assigned the Topsfield Fire Department all responsibilities for patient care.
In 1980, several members of the Topsfield Fire Department completed EMT I.V. (intravenous) training in the first advanced EMT class ever held in the Commonwealth at the Hunt Memorial Hospital.
The Commonwealth added legislation which required communities to designate one vehicle as an EMS Truck. In 1981, the Town of Topsfield purchased a 1981 Pierce mini-pumper designated “Squad 1” for the expressed “purpose of providing efficient responses to medical emergencies.” This is direct wording from the town report. The original Squad 1 functioned as a forest firefighting vehicle, held the Jaws of Life, and was the designated vehicle for medical responses made by the fire department for all medicals in town for over 15 years.
In 1998, the Commonwealth implemented the first ever Statewide Treatment Protocols which all staff were required to be trained in.
In October of 1999, the Town of Topsfield received their ambulance license from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The license was necessary to designate a vehicle to legally carry and administer basic medical practices such as administering aspirin to be used in the presence of nontraumatic chest pain, blood glucose monitoring to be used in patients with altered mental status and to carry epi pens for patients with allergic reactions. We requested a BLS non-transporting license, however upon a site inspection by the Department of Public Health, the Topsfield Fire Department were issued a BLS transporting license, as the inspector felt with our equipment and training, our community would be better served.
As early as 2000, in the Annual Town Report of the Topsfield Fire Department, a shift in the acuity of patients was noted. This was due to the increase in Senior Housing, Sporting venues and the changes in health care which resulted in decreased lengths of stay in-hospital.
In the 2001-2002 Annual Report of the Topsfield Board of Selectmen, the Selectmen listed evaluation of the town Emergency Medical Service Delivery as a priority. To address this priority, the Board of Selectmen appointed an Emergency Medical Service Delivery Committee in 2001 to evaluate and make recommendations. The committee met regularly for two years and assessed the process, staffing, workload and statistics related to EMS compared to national guidelines.
In 2001, two members of the Topsfield Fire Department graduated from and were certified as paramedics in the Commonwealth of MA. Their tuition was paid for through the approved budget process and from donations from local businesses and health care facilities.
In 2002, the Finance Committee and the Board of Selectmen voted to approve the Fire Department budget which had increased money in the budget specifically for increased training of EMT’s to EMT Paramedics. This was passed at the Annual Town Meeting.
On May 7, 2002 The Finance Committee recommended in Article 27 that the town vote and assess $24, 676 expended by the BOS and with the advice of the Fire Chief to purchase a biphasic defibrillator cardiac monitor. This was a required piece of equipment for an ALS service. That Article was amended on the Town Meeting Floor to vote to assess $14,676 by the Town of Topsfield as the Topsfield Firefighters Relief donated 10,000 towards that purchase. The amendment passed unanimously. As did the revised motion.
In August of 2002 the Town of Topsfield received their Paramedic License from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and on October 5, 2002, implemented full Advanced Life Service care to our residents. Incidentally, exactly one week after receipt of this license, the Topsfield Fire Department with the help of the Topsfield Police Department and Lyons Ambulance successfully resuscitated a male resident victim of cardiac arrest.
In January of 2003, The Emergency Medical Services Delivery (EMSD) Committee presented their findings and recommendations to the Board of Selectmen. Each member of the committee voted that changes needed to be made to the current system to ensure adequate response as well as offered suggestions on what changes could be made.
Based upon the EMSD Committee’s recommendations, an article was written and placed on the Town Meeting Warrant to recommend changing staffing of the Topsfield Fire Department to add 8 FTE’s and to purchase two ambulances. This would staff the fire department 24 hours per day 365 days per year. This recommendation was presented at the 5/3/2005 ATM and was defeated. Also at the 2005 ATM, the Finance Committee and the Board of Selectmen recommended an increase in Article 3 for FY 06 budget to add one full time firefighter and additional coverage to staff the fire station and supported a budget increase of $80,000 for the Fire Department to staff the station with two firefighters twelve hours per day, seven days per week, this Article passed.
With the defeat of the EMSD committee’s recommendations, the Fire Chief asked permission from the Board of Selectmen on April 10, 2006, to investigate the purchase of the Town of Middleton’s Ambulance as there was no back up to our EMS vehicle. The BOS gave the Chief permission to investigate that purchase.
On August 14, 2006, the Topsfield Firefighters Relief Association, a 501c3 non-profit made up of current and former or retired Topsfield firefighters along with several associate members, purchased the Wheeled Coach Ambulance from the Town of Middleton and donated it to the Town of Topsfield. The donation was accepted by the Board of Selectmen.
Legislation was developed which required each community to develop their own Service Zone Plan which described the provision of Emergency Medical Services within their community. All stake holders in the Town of Topsfield were invited to participate and after some revisions, the Town of Topsfield Service Zone Plan was signed and approved by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Public Health on January 12, 2009.
Selectman Gandt made a motion to approve the Service Zone Plan at the December 7, 2009 meeting. The plan was approved unanimously. Selectmen Clark and Morrison were involved in this process with final sign-off from Martha Morrison Chair of the Board of Selectmen. This Commonwealth Approved Plan lists Topsfield Fire Department as the Designated Primary Ambulance Service for the Town of Topsfield with all responsibility of monitoring and reporting of the EMS system in Topsfield.
In June 2009, the Town of Topsfield’s contract with Lyons Ambulance was up for renewal. The Town had never gone out to bid for service, but only renewed the Lyons Contract. The Board of Selectmen decided to open a bid process, the Town of Topsfield received bids for ambulance services. Twelve ambulance companies were offered the opportunity to submit bids. Four ambulance companies submitted a total of six proposals. Each proposal was reviewed independently by a group of subject matter experts. The contract was awarded by the Board of Selectmen, to Northeast Regional Ambulance as their proposal was the most responsive to the Town’s request for proposals. This competitive bid process allowed the town to save over $50,000 per year which they were paying for ambulance services.
In the 2014 Annual Town Meeting the Finance Committee and the Board of Selectmen recommended and supported an article to purchase a Fire Rescue Vehicle to replace the current Rescue One. The article passed with little to no discussion.
The past few versions of the Fire Chief Job Description list under essential job functions, the responsibility of the Chief to ensure effective and efficient provision of emergency and nonemergency fire services including emergency medical services. Another essential job function includes overseeing all medical training of firefighters, adherence to state protocols and to oversee the collection of fees for ambulance use.
Today the Topsfield Fire Department remains the designated primary ambulance service for the Town of Topsfield responsible for the care and treatment of our residents and visitors and responsible for monitoring compliance of the contract with the private vendor.
Contact point: Jen Collins Brown, Chief of Department 978-887-5148.