Emergency responder shares career field changes over 28 years at DSCR

By Editorial by Ed Rust DLA Installation Management Richmond

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My name is Ed Rust. I’m a firefighter, emergency medical technician-paramedic and hazardous materials technician with Defense Logistics Agency Installation Management Richmond on Defense Supply Center Richmond, Virginia. May 2019 marks 28 years since I started working here — literally half my life.

In May 1991, I was hired as a DLA firefighter. There were two fire engines, a hazmat truck and an ambulance here. I obtained Virginia EMT credentials, and I was later promoted from firefighter to firefighter/EMT. EMT credentials weren’t required for all firefighters back then; it was a higher paygrade.

When I started working here, our ambulance was a van with a raised roof and some flashing red lights. A large plastic box, the size of a medium-sized dog crate, held the equipment that we carried on calls. A separate bag held a heavy oxygen tank. Everything we had was for basic life support, but we were well-equipped for the times. We purchased and trained on the use of a defibrillator: It was the size of a small suitcase and weighed a lot more than today’s version.

Even the exam gloves evolved over time. We went from wearing no gloves at all to nitrile/latex-free gloves. The original gloves, and all the equipment we used, had to be reformulated after a few years. Even though latex had been on the market for a long time, it turns out that a lot of people are allergic to it.

Time progresses, as always, and we have more things to protect ourselves and the patients: surgical masks with built-in eye shields, disposable gowns and surgical caps, and high-efficiency particulate arrestance (HEPA) respirator masks. Even our work boots must be certified as bloodborne-pathogen resistant.

As time went on, we procured different ambulances. Our first modular ambulance, the familiar “box unit” seen today, was a turn-in unit from another base. We have purchased a few new different configurations of box units in the last 20 years.

We also improved our services to advanced life support. This, along with ALS credentials, allowed many of us to practice as paramedics. It also added to the equipment we traveled with and carried to patients. I went back to class and became a certified cardiac technician, which allowed me to do everything a paramedic could do.

In 2004, Department of Defense mandated three levels of provider certification be established, and the department set paygrade standards for them. I went back to school for another year and was certified as a national registry paramedic. Today, all department personnel are required to be an EMT-basic certified at a minimum, and nine of us are in positions designated as EMT-paramedics.

One of my favorite changes has been in the way we move and load patients. For years, our standard cot (also referred to as a stretcher or gurney) required two people to operate. Heavier patients required more personnel to help lift it. Accidentally pulling the release handle when someone wasn’t ready caused the cot to immediately drop - at the speed of gravity - to the lowest setting which could result in pinched fingers, strained backs and angry patients. The power cot used today alleviated many problems. One person can easily remove the cot from the ambulance, roll it to the patient and lower it for use.

We also now administer a variety of medications to people. As BLS providers, we carried BLS medication like glucose, charcoal and ipecac. The glucose is still around, but we added many more medications since we became an ALS-capable agency.

Although we only have one DLA Richmond ambulance to transport patients, other vehicles carry our emergency medical care equipment. It’s possible, and has happened, that our ambulance can be transporting a patient when another medical emergency occurs. Rather than delay care, the engine and the ladder truck carry the same equipment that the ambulance does and will respond to the call.

So many things have changed since I started this job and listing them all would take more than can fit in one article. But, I am proud to serve at DLA as a firefighter and paramedic and look forward to seeing how the department evolves in the years to come.