May 17, 2022

Sheriff’s office displays new tech for ALS deputies responding to EMS calls

Halferty gives supervisors an update on new program, which he says has seen great success the past two months

Reserve deputy paramedic Steve Ashing, right, showcases the LUCAS device May 10 during the Jasper County Board of Supervisors meeting.

Two reserve sheriff’s deputies, who are certified to provide advanced life support (ALS) services, on May 10 showed off the new equipment they use when responding to emergencies in Jasper County, particularly the communities outside of Newton that mostly rely on the dedicated help from volunteers.

With their certifications and skills as paramedics, reserve deputies Steve Ashing and Jacob Halferty are able to provide more interventions and reduce wait times for provisional emergency medical services calls. And when they are responding to these situations, Ashing and Jacob Halferty know they are coming prepared.

Jacob Halferty displayed the cardiac monitor while Ashing showcased the Lund University Cardiopulmonary Assist System (LUCAS) device.

Purchased new a cardiac monitor can cost about $35,000, which makes them somewhat difficult to acquire with tight budgets. Jacob Halferty said the ALS deputies use this piece of equipment on almost every call. Users can measure blood pressure, pulses, breathing rates and heart rates, among other functions.

“If someone’s heart rate is too low, we can give them a little bit of a shock through the pads to increase their heart rate. Ultimately, if someone is in cardiac arrest, we can use it to shock their heart back into rhythm,” Jacob Halferty said of the cardiac monitor, which is about the size of a duffel bag.

Unzipping compartments on the sides of the monitor show even more tools. Jacob Halferty said a nice feature is the monitor’s compatibility with the public access automated external defibrillators (AEDs). If a patient already has the AED on, deputies can unplug their pads and put them into the monitor to save time.

The monitors can also send data to hospitals for an incoming transport, giving doctors a head start on the appropriate treatment.

Ashing gave a demonstration of the LUCAS device on a CPR training manikin. The device provides chest compressions when a patient is in cardiac arrest. Anyone familiar with CPR, Ashing said, knows the person dedicated to chest compressions is solely dedicated to that job.

“This is a machine that does that for us,” Ashing said.

The American Heart Association has guidelines for how to respond to cardiac arrests. Ashing said one of the biggest rules is to apply constant compressions and as rhythmic as possible. With a full battery, the LUCAS device can apply compressions for 45 minutes straight.

The problem with manual compressions, Ashing said, is the longer a person does it the more tired they will become, which lessens the effectiveness of the compressions. The LUCAS device allows the rescuer to preserve their energy for other tasks and provides the best survivability for that patient.

Ashing said a couple weeks ago the ALS deputies were called to another patient going into cardiac arrest and used the monitor and the LUCAS device. The monitor can log the CPR compression rates and how good they are. When first responders return to a wi-fi connection, the data is uploaded to a database.

“Well the people that logged that database called us the next day and said, ‘Hey! You guys had a code and did awesome compressions. That was great!’ — It was this,” Ashing said, placing his hand on the LUCAS device. “Yeah, thanks! We did a great job, but we had the machine on it. So this thing’s really handy.”

Quite literally, too, as it frees up a set of hands for the ALS deputies, who can get breathing treatments or IVs ready while the LUCAS device keeps the patient’s blood flowing.

“This is a fantastic piece of equipment,” Ashing said.

SHERIFF SHARES DETAILS ABOUT ALS PROGRAM

In December 2021, Jasper County Sheriff John Halferty — who also volunteers for Mingo Fire Department — pitched the idea to have deputies shoulder some of the EMS work in order to provide some relief to the volunteer first responders. CARES Act funds would be used to purchase equipment and extra shifts for the program.

Other than the Newton Fire Department, all community fire stations in the county are primarily operated by volunteers. The smaller towns’ first responder services do an “outstanding” job and are able to respond to most calls, John Halferty said, but sometimes there is a critical need for an ALS or paramedic service.

The sheriff’s office has been a non-transport ALS service since 2015. John Halferty said this means there are personnel who met the requirements to be licensed and certified as emergency medical technicians or above and can provide care, but they do not have an ambulance to transport patients.

“They can respond and they can provide care at their level of practice, but they have to have agreements in place called transport agreements with services that have an ambulance so that the patient can be transported,” John Halferty explained.

For instance, Mingo is a non-transport BLS service and has a transport agreement with the neighboring Colfax. Whenever there is a call in Mingo, John Halferty said both sets of first responders are dispatched to the scene.

In the county, every emergency service has signed a transport agreement with the sheriff’s office. Regardless of where the call is, if ALS deputies or BLS deputies are assisting the call, that jurisdiction’s ambulance is dispatched to work together or take over the patient care, John Halferty said.

For the next 18 months or so, the sheriff’s office will be testing out its new ALS program. From there, John Halferty said he will determine if it is worth keeping.

“I always want to acknowledge and thank our first responder services for being the core or the foundation of EMS response in this county,” John Halferty said, noting a majority are volunteers. “… I think (the program) is definitely a positive or a forward movement.”

RESULTS OF THE PROGRAM TWO MONTHS IN

So far, the program seems to be working out.

The sheriff’s office continues to get compliments about the program. John Halferty said the sheriff’s office is doing about 12 shifts per month, 12 hours a day to help cover the needs. The sheriff’s office could adjust times as needed. Currently, the shifts between 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seem to get a lot of the calls.

In 2021, the sheriff’s office assisted a total of 25 EMS calls. John Halferty said this number is a little low because of the pandemic and also because the department did not always report everything when it came to assisting another service. But because of the new program, staff have responded to more calls.

On an average year, the sheriff’s office assists in about 40 EMS calls. The ALS deputies so far have exceeded that response volume.

“As of this year, we have done 42 calls for service where EMS was needed — 32 of those calls were ALS provisions,” John Halferty said, noting the certified personnel provided or assisted with primary care. “…In many cases they actually rode in the ambulance to the medical facility with the EMS crew providing care.”

The other 10 were basic life support (BLS) calls that EMT deputies were able to handle and provide care on. John Halferty said there was one incident when a fire department had a significant structure fire when a serious medical call was requested. One ALS deputy was close by and responded.

“He was able to work with that department,” John Halferty said. “It was actually what we call a ‘code,’ a person went into cardiac arrest.”

Unfortunately, first responders were not successful in resuscitating the patient. Despite of the end result, it still showed a “very rapid response” time in which an ALS deputy was able to arrive to the scene with proper equipment to ensure the patient could have the best care possible given the scenario.

“I’m hopeful that it is successful and that the board will continue to support it and that we will continue to fund it,” John Halferty said. “I get asked by a couple people, ‘Do you think you’ll add staffing?’ If the trend continues the way it is, I think there’s definitely potential for us to add additional people to work.”

Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or cbraunschweig@newtondailynews.com

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig has a strong passion for community journalism and covers city council, school board, politics and general news in Newton, Iowa and Jasper County.