Dean Speerbrecher is on the lookout for people who need help. That’s nothing new for this paramedic who’s been answering emergency calls for 28 years.
Now he has two other angles to help: teaching people to act in an emergency before help arrives and helping people prevent emergencies in the first place.
Starting Wednesday, Aug. 28, Speerbrecher’s offering free, one-hour ACT classes at the Vista Fire Station, so people could save a life during the first crucial minutes before firefighters arrive to an emergency call.
South County Fire Deputy Chief Shaughn Maxwell and Medical Director Rich Campbell researched citizen emergency response programs and created this new ACT program based on what was most effective.
Maxwell wrote in the “Fire Engineering” publication that the ACT program is based on evidence-based research. It’s an educational outreach program focused on lifesaving interventions for conditions that cause death within minutes.
The ACT program consists of a one-hour hands-on course that teaches three vital first aid skills:
1. Antidote for suspected opiate overdose.
2. CPR/AED, immediate treatment for cardiac arrest.
3. Tourniquet application and wound packing to stop bleeding.
“Three prominent life-threatening challenges to modern society include cardiac arrest, opiate overdose and uncontrolled hemorrhage. The increasing prevalence of these threats are related to cardiac disease, the opioid epidemic and increased terror attacks. (These threats have) the potential to cause death in minutes. However rapid, simple citizen intervention has been proven to be lifesaving,” Maxwell wrote.
Speerbrecher said that one of the leading causes of death right now for people younger than 50 is opioid overdose. Overall, cardiac arrest is a leading cause of death in the U.S. Because of active shooters these days, he said it’s necessary for people to learn how to stop wounds from bleeding, which can kill in minutes.
“People can really save a life in the time it takes for the fire department to get there,” Speerbrecher said. “If you want to learn how to save someone’s life and you only have an hour. This is a good class. We’re really excited to offer it.”
People don’t want to attempt an 8-hour comprehensive first aid course, he said. He hopes this short class might lead more people to instruction. If response is good for the first Act class, he’ll offer it regularly every month, adding to the community’s ready resources.
Speerbrecher was recently promoted as Camano Island Fire District’s community resource paramedic. He’s taking over for Jim Reinhardt, Camano’s first community resource paramedic who became a deputy fire chief at Tulalip Bay Fire Department.
Speerbrecher’s job is to connect people with resources, so they can build their health, make their homes safe and prevent injury, so they don’t need to call 911.
Fire departments often respond to emergencies that aren’t related to fires. They get a lot of medical calls.
“Some people call a lot. We can take them by ambulance to hospital. When we’re using our resources to leave the island, we’re out of service,” he said.
Many emergency calls can be prevented if someone made sure people have what they need to be safe and to age in place.
“We get a lot of fall-related calls from the elderly who can’t get back up,” Speerbrecher said. “We have to get into their house and get them back on their feet. They may not need to go to the hospital, but they may have gotten injuries and need to go. Sometimes people fall twice a day.”
Speerbrecher can do a fall assessment for a person’s situation and capabilities to make their homes safer. He might find that a person needs a push button alert to call for help or physical therapy to get stronger.
“You do whatever you can do to get the resources to them to prevent this from happening so we can prevent this from being a serious tragedy,” he said.
The resource paramedic contacts the people who call 911 frequently, finds out their needs and signs them up with social services. Maybe they need a mental health worker, a meal service or a home health care worker.
Elderly people might live alone and need help; their family and doctors might not even know they have issues with falling or eating. The resource paramedic looks to see if they have food in the fridge, checks to see if they’ve been missing doctor appointments or need transportation.
Resource paramedics develop relationships with these people and get them into better situations so that they get the care they need instead of going to a hospital, he said.
Sometimes people have drug and alcohol addiction issues and need help connecting to addiction counselors and AA groups.
“Whatever the patient needs to be well, I try to be their advocate. I just try to help people who have fallen through the cracks,” he said. “A lot of people aren’t aware of the services that are available to them. My job is just to get them hooked up with the resources they need.”