Firefighters Play ER Docs to Uninsured

Medical calls have more than doubled since 1980
By Matt Cantor,  Newser User
Posted Sep 4, 2009 9:32 AM CDT
Washington firefighters battle a blaze at the Georgetown branch of the D.C. Public Library in Washington, April 30, 2007.    (AP Photo/Stephen J Boitano)
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(Newser) – Operating in a poor area where many lack health insurance, a DC firehouse battles far more than just flames: Some 80% of its calls are for medical emergencies. Because it is believed to respond fastest, Washington’s fire department zooms to almost all the city’s emergency calls alongside EMS, the New York Times reports. “Guys complain about all the medical calls, but to me it’s work,” says one firefighter.

He has a point: Improved fire safety halved fire calls between 1980 and 2008, meaning medical emergencies can play a role in keeping fire departments afloat. Firefighters’ medical calls increased 213% percent in the same time period, thanks to cities’ appreciation of their speedy responses. “It just seems like so many people use us as their primary care providers,” says another firefighter.