by BRIAN S. GETTEMEIER | Cotteville Fire Protection District
Can a small plastic tube save your life? No, it cannot but it can contain critical medical information that will assist first responders in providing quick and appropriate care. Emergency service workers often find themselves as medical detectives when they arrive on scene. Patients present a variety of symptoms and the pre-hospital provider is assessing the situation to provide the best care. Often times the patient’s medical history and medications can provide clues to what the problem may be. At times patients are confused or unable to provide this critical information. Family members may not fully know the patient’s medical history and medication. When the Streator, Ill., Fire Department started to respond to emergency medical calls in April of 2016, they found themselves trying to coax medical history from the patient or family. They found themselves searching through cabinets in the house to find prescription medications. This fact-finding mission occasionally caused minor delays in patient treatment and transport. Chief Gary Bird knew the answer to this dilemma, the Vial of Life. The Vial of Life is a system used by emergency medical providers throughout the county; however, no such system existed in Streator.
What is the Vial of Life The Vial of Life is a nationally recognized program to provide vital medical information. The Vial of Life is a simple clear plastic bottle with a red cap on it. Patients keep the vial in the refrigerator so emergency services personnel can quickly access the vial from a common place in any home. The vial contains an information sheet with the patient’s emergency contact information, past medical history, current medications, allergies, date of birth, current doctor and hospital. Without this data pre-hospital providers have to ask the patients questions about the current medical event and also ask questions about their past medical history and current medications. This information gathering creates delays in patient treatment and ultimately transport. The Vial of Life allows this information to be quickly read by pre-hospital medical providers while asking information about the current event at the same time. Th e forms and other program information can be found at www.vialoflife.com. No cost to the fi re department and no cost to the citizens Streator Fire Department partnered with E. J. McKernan Co, a local bottle wholesaler in Streator, to provide the initial 1,000 bottles for the project. Recently, E.J. McKernan was generous enough to provided a second order of 1,000 bottles. The bottles with lids are approximately $1 a unit. A local printer, Designs and Signs by Anderson, printed the forms at a discounted rate. OSF Center for Health, a local medical systems, provided a cash donation and the city of Streator paid for the rest of the printing. To date, the impact to the fi re department’s budget for this project is zero. Th e vials are distributed free of cost to any residents wanting to participate in the program.
The key to the program being effective is to distribute the bottles prior to a call for emergency services. Often times, fire departments have limited proactive opportunities to interact with the public outside a call for service. The Streator Fire Department partnered with the Senior Expo for the initial distribution in November of 2016. This was followed up with a pickup day at the fire station where residents could come by and ask for a bottle. Since that time, the Streator Fire Department has partnered with the local pharmacies to provide the vials at no charge. The vials are displayed on the counters and are free for customers to grab while they are picking up their prescription. The department is also partnering with Meals on Wheels to distribute and assist the residents with completing the information.
Chief Bird explained, “Meals on Wheels reaches those residents who need the vials, those who often live by themselves, those that have some medical issues.” He added it is vital that the fi re department partners with its community partners to identify those citizens who may need some additional resources to enhance their life safety. The fire department is also distributing the vials at emergency medical incidents. While it is too late to be useful on this particular incident, it will be useful in future calls for services.
Putting the plan into action
The Streator Fire Department is putting the plan into action. When Streator firefighters arrive on the scene of a call for emergency medical services, one firefighter checks the refrigerator for the vial. Other firefighters tend to the patient’s needs and begin to gather the medical history of the current event.
Continued mission of expanded services provided by the fire department
This is yet another expansion of services provided by the Streator Fire Department with no increases in tax revenue. The hard work and dedication of Chief Bird and his firefighters, coupled with business partnerships, have provided life safety services to the Streator community. Other services include the smoke detector program, featured in the August 2016 issue of The Municipal. The fire department recently expanded its emergency response capabilities to include running emergency medical calls. This expansion in service has increased its request for service from an average of 500 calls annually to over 1,500 calls in 2016. The Vial of Life is a small extension of the emergency medical initiative.
The vial is a small item that when used properly can help to greatly enhance the speed that emergency services can provide a citizen during a medical emergency.
Brian S. Gettemeier has been in the fire service for 24 years, with the last 21 years being spent as a career firefighter with the Cottleville Fire Protection District of St. Charles County, Mo. Gettemeier is a second generation firefighter. He has a bachelor’s degree in fire service management from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and holds numerous state certifications. He teaches all hazard classes for numerous organizations throughout the state of Missouri. Gettemeier is a freelance writer and has authored several articles for fire service trade journals.