FLORENCE – The Florence Fire Department is now rated a Premier EMS Agency in the state for its quality of emergency medical services.

Fire personnel say they’ve long provided good care, but only recently acquired the tools to prove it.

Under the department’s previous records management system, “the computer let us down,” Battalion Chief Jim Walter said. “We were doing everything we were supposed to, but on the back end the systems were not helping us at all.”

The department used two programs — one for national fire incident reports and one for electronic patient care reports — but “they were not reporting what we needed to report, or capturing the data that we needed,” engineer Mike Scherm said.

As the department’s electronic records management coordinator, Scherm used to receive reports from the state showing Florence at 30% or less compliance in all categories, although Florence firefighters knew they weren’t that bad. Scherm reached out to other departments to ask, “How are you guys doing it?”

He spent two months last summer going all over the Valley to visit other departments, and found the best ones were using software called ImageTrend for their records management. Scherm said the old vendor was a good company, but limited in how much it could adjust their programs for Florence’s needs.

ImageTrend, on the other hand, could be customized to fit Florence, and the department has been using it since Oct. 1. The difference was quickly apparent, Scherm said. “The first week, we were at 98% (compliant information).”

“I can actually talk into the Ipad, complete my whole narrative and not have to come back and type it on a computer,” he added, “and complete the call at 100% before I even get back on the truck.”

EMS Capt. Corey Usher agreed: “Decreasing the land reporting time is another big component, which enables us to respond to the next call that much sooner. Our reporting is more accurate, more timely and allows us to focus more on patient care.”

It wasn’t expensive, Walter said. The cost is “basically at the same point or less than what we were paying for two programs.”

The state award resulted from a convergence of several things, and not just a better records management system, Chief David Strayer said.

With the reopening of the Florence Hospital, the department had the support of a new EMS program director, Dr. Gary Smith; new Base Hospital Director Dr. Joachin Okafor; and Nathan Windatt, base station coordinator/EMS liaison.

Strayer said the department also improved some procedures.

Usher led the reporting and quality control processes that were needed to win the award, with the assistance of Scherm and support from Walter, Strayer said.

Firefighters said the department isn’t done improving; it recently began its own internal education system. Now with ImageTrend, “we can continue to internally monitor ourselves for quality improvement and better patient outcomes,” Usher said.

Walter said fire personnel can more readily spot harmful trends and work to reduce risks for the community, “as opposed to just running out on calls and coming back.” But he added that with every solution comes two new problems, as firefighters see things that could be better.

“It has been quite a roller coaster since we started the new system, but we’ve been able to identify so many areas for improvement. At the end of the day, every one of these just makes better service for the community,” Walter said.

Usher said Florence now aims to be the region’s metropolitan leader in EMS care.

“Through this information and being able to prove the quality of care we already give, we are looking to expand our protocols beyond what is currently being provided in the Valley,” he said. “We are looking to set new standards.”

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Mark Cowling is the county reporter for PinalCentral and covers the town of Florence, San Tan Valley and the surrounding area. He can be reached at mcowling@pinalcentral.com.

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