La Cueva Volunteer Fire Department Emergency Medical Services

Have you ever called 911 for an emergency?  The 911 dispatcher who answers your call determines the nature and location of your emergency, and depending on your needs, dispatches law enforcement, fire department, EMS, or other types of help, to your location.  EMS is locally operated, in our case by Sandoval County.  Nationwide, seventy percent of EMS responders are volunteers; around here it’s a lot higher.  All EMS personnel, whether paid or volunteer, must meet the state’s training and testing requirements to be licensed.  Licenses are issues at four levels according to training, from First Responder (48 hr course), EMT-Basic (120 hr course), EMT-Intermediate (additional 120 hrs + clinical practice for starting intravenous [IV] lines), to Paramedic (additional 6-9 months).  Licenses are renewable every 2 years only if the refresher and continuing education requirements are met.

In the Jemez corridor most of the initial EMS response is provided by volunteers of the four local Fire and Rescue districts:  Zia Pueblo, Ponderosa (including San Ysidro, Canon and Gilman), Jemez Springs (up to Soda Dam), and La Cueva (from Soda Dam, including Areas 1, 2, and 3, out SR126 to Cuba and SR4 to Los Alamos, including Thompson Ridge and Sierra Los Pinos).  Jemez Pueblo has a 24/7 ambulance service that, by agreement with the county, transports Jemez corridor patients to the hospital.  If they’re not available, back-up is called from Bernalillo or Rio Rancho, so we’re always covered, even if from far away.  Mutual aid from Los Alamos or Cuba may be requested under some circumstances.

Usually the initial responders are volunteers from our local fire and rescue departments that have been paged out by the county dispatcher depending on the location of the need. Some responders may drive their personal vehicle directly to the patient, bringing a jump kit for basic life support, while others go to the fire station to bring a “Rescue” vehicle to the patient. Most Rescues look just like an ambulance (although some are SUVs for easier access to the back roads).  But Rescues aren’t used to transport patients the long distances to the hospital; the patient is usually loaded into the Rescue, to begin assessment and treatment on the way to the ambulance, thus giving the patient the most opportunity for medical care.  Then the ambulance will take the patient to the hospital.  The Jemez is also served by air ambulances (helicopters) out of Albuquerque (Lifeguard) and Santa Fe (CareFlight).  

Trained volunteers are scattered throughout the corridor and will respond when they are paged, according to their availability.  Response time depends on many factors:  distance from responders’ locations to the patient and to the fire station; proximity of the patient to a road; weather conditions; or in some potentially dangerous situations, such as assaults or downed power lines, the possible need for law enforcement or other aid to be with the EMS responders when they enter a scene. Responders must be careful for their own safety or they can’t help a patient.  

EMS costs for equipment, training and operations are paid for by funds from the NM State EMS Bureau and occasional grants.  The volunteers are not paid for their services; patients are not charged for EMS calls when volunteers respond.  Paid ambulance services have fees for transporting patients which may be covered by insurance or a patient may be eligible for funds from government programs that help cover emergency medical costs.  We all hope never to need EMS but know that it is here to serve all of us.