2014-03-20 / Editorial


ALS: A small cost to save lives on our island

Discussion at the recent Town Council budget work session centered on whether or not our community should spend money to make advanced life support available on the fire department’s ambulances.

Advanced life support, also known as ALS, is common practice throughout the state and nation. In fact, Jamestown is one of only two communities in Rhode Island that does not have ALS. The other community is Block Island.

Currently, our ambulance emergency medical technicians can only provide basic life support. Under the rules of basic life support, ambulance personnel can do little more than transport patients to the hospital. The ambulance crews may also use a defibrillator if the patient is having a heart attack.

According to Jamestown Fire Chief Jim Bryer, a patient’s chances of survival improve dramatically with advanced life support. Ambulance personnel are allowed to start IVs and administer life-saving drugs. Patients may also have airways inserted when needed. “With a serious heart attack or stroke we can help the patient better than we can now,” Chief Bryer explained about ALS.

The fire department is asking for $256,000 to get the ALS program started. Part of the money is to purchase the necessary equipment and vehicle. About $175,000 of those funds will be used to hire the necessary personnel trained in advanced cardiac support. Because the ambulance service is allowed to bill insurance for its services, much of the cost for the additional ALS expenses will be offset, Bryer explained.

What’s the downside of ALS? The additional money in the town budget could cost taxpayers a few cents on the dollar. Would you be willing to spend the money for this life-saving service?

This is not a new idea. The Jamestown Fire Department and ambulance service has discussed for several years the concept of developing ALS services. The infrastructure was not in place then, but now the department is ready. Now is the time to make ALS happen in Jamestown.

We have an aging population in the U.S. and Jamestown is no exception to that statistic. There is no question that the small expense of advanced life support would be more than offset by the lives of our family, friends and neighbors that are saved.

— Jeff McDonough

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