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Paramedic Joe Sicoli, Chief Fred Gilstorff and Lt. Brent Strom with Peninsula Fire Department's new ALS equipment | Jane Boursaw Photo
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The Peninsula Fire Department is now certified for Advanced Life Support, enabling them to save more lives and better serve Peninsula Township residents.

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“We’re now able to provide the highest pre-hospital emergency care to the residents of the Peninsula, now that we have the capabilities and equipment,” said Joe Sicoli, a paramedic/firefighter with the Peninsula Fire Department (PFD) who helped to organize and bring the program to the department. “We did our state inspection just yesterday and passed with flying colors, so now we can operate at that level.”

Advanced Life Support (ALS) gives PFD paramedics the ability to offer advanced medical care in the field, including intubation, IV fluids, pain and cardio meds, and vital heart monitoring and stabilization. That’s important with time-sensitive health issues, said PFD Chief Fred Gilstorff.

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“The more your heart or body organs stay in an abnormal state, the more damage it does to you overall,” said Gilstorff. “So the quicker that can get remedied, the higher the probability of having a successful outcome from that incident.”

Prior to upgrading to Advanced Life Support, the PFD had Basic Life Support (BLS), which not only didn’t offer life-saving procedures like intubation and IV fluids, but also had limited heart capabilities.

Gilstorff said BLS only gave them the ability to take a picture of someone’s heart and monitor the electrical activity. “Those were the only functions we could do with it,” he said.

With ALS, PFD paramedics have the ability to cardiovert Peninsula Township residents in the ambulance. This procedure converts an abnormally fast heart rate or other cardiac arrhythmia to a normal rhythm using electricity and/or drugs.

Also, ALS gives the fire department the ability to do heart “pacing,” which stabilizes a person’s abnormal heart rate similar to what a pacemaker does.

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Peninsula Fire Department’s new ALS equipment | Jane Boursaw Photo

Prior to ALS, the PFD had to wait for advanced intervention through North Flight, an emergency medical service provider in northern Michigan, which while fast, could take up to five to 10 minutes longer to reach Peninsula Township residents – precious minutes when it comes to heart issues.

“If somebody’s heart stops, they have four to six minutes before they go into irreversible brain damage,” said Gilstorff.

He added that ALS “has ten-folded our abilities to be able to save somebody’s life,” and that since he was hired last year, upgrading the fire department to ALS was a priority for Peninsula Township.

“The community is behind us a hundred percent,” said Gilstorff. “They  like where we’re going with things, and I think they feel much safer. But we’re not done yet. There’s still a lot of work to do.”

Another priority was placing two PFD staff at Fire Station #2 24/7, which Gilstorff said will happen in the very near future. He noted that while they now have eight paramedics – four of which are full-time, including himself – they are looking to hire two to three more to ensure that a paramedic is always available for a call. ALS can only be administered by a paramedic, which means if there’s no paramedic in the ambulance, the care goes back to Basic Life Support.

Also, in order to be ALS certified, Gilstorff had to submit a plan that the fire department would be able to offer it 24/7 uninterrupted within two years. Right now, the license is a conditional license.

“I’m a firm believer in fire-based EMS [emergency medical services], because we’re here,” said Gilstorff, adding that the PFD staff are invested in the community. “They’re your employees. You’re the taxpayer, and they work for you. They want to see this department do well, and they know the community.”

Sicoli, who was hired in July, said he feels fortunate to be with the PFD, not only because he now has the ability to use his paramedic skills, but also because the fire department is growing and able to offer better services overall.

“Since Fred has been out here, we’d heard all the good things he’s been doing and how much growth he’s brought to the department,” said Sicoli. “I’m excited to be part of that change and be part of that growth. I give him huge props for it, because he’s been working tirelessly to get us here. He promised that we would get ALS, and he did.”

Gilstorff said it’s been a team effort, and he’s happy that his paramedics now have the ability to use their skills with ALS. “It’s giving these guys that are licensed as paramedics, like myself, the tools to be able to do what we were taught to do.”

Along with paramedics, he said they’re still looking for firefighters and EMTs, especially people who live on the Peninsula. If you’re interested in learning more, call Chief Gilstorff at (231) 223-4443 or (231) 463-0330. Click here for more info about the Peninsula Fire Department.

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