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About Allentown’s Paramedics

Saving lives by restoring a heartbeat, stop seizure activity, delivering medication to reverse a diabetic coma or re-opening the airways in an asthmatic child are just some of the calls that Allentown’s paramedics see on a daily basis.

Some still think that an ambulance is just a fast ride to the hospital – nothing can be further from the truth. Today’s ambulances, and indeed the ambulances operated by the City of Allentown, are mobile intensive care units. Allentown’s ambulances, staffed by highly trained paramedics can best be thought of as an extension of the hospital’s emergency room. Our ambulances have many of the same medications and equipment that are used in the emergency room for lifesaving resuscitation.
So what’s a paramedic?
The word paramedic literally means “beside doctor”, and today’s paramedics are trained to a very high level of care. All credentialed paramedics are graduates of a year-long program that is focused on all aspects of pre-hospital emergency medical assessments and the delivery of sophisticated in-field treatments for medical and traumatic emergencies. The curriculum is heavily focused on acute medical assessments and rapid medical treatment for all medical and traumatic related emergencies.
Covering over 1500 hours of classroom and practical labs, program studies include; pharmacology, human biology, psychopathology, crisis intervention and medical-legal issues. Studies concentrate on patient care procedures, pathophysiology, advanced cardiac and pediatric life support, neonatal resuscitation and trauma care. Upon graduation of the program, students must complete a day-long nationally recognized written and practical test. Successful candidates are awarded both Pennsylvania and national certifications which permits full or part-time employment anywhere in the country.
How do Allentown’s paramedics stay up-to-date on new medications, techniques and equipment?
Allentown EMS mandates that all paramedics undergo yearly continuing medical education that exceeds the state minimum thus ensuring the highest quality of pre-hospital emergency medical care and treatment. Paramedics must undergo at least 48 hours of medical and operational continuing education per certification period. Allentown EMS provides the majority of training in-house, coordinated by our training and planning officer. Outside specialized training is use to supplement our internal programs.
So what makes a good paramedic?
It's difficult to give a clear image of what it takes to be a good paramedic. People who are injured or gravely ill call paramedics because they find themselves in an urgent and often scary situation, so compassion and care are probably the biggest assets one could possess. Paramedics are required to be understanding and cool-headed in all situations; many of which can be dangerous or challenging. As you might imagine, medicine is a challenging field and a keen knowledge of emergency medicine is paramount to being a good paramedic, as new treatments and new medical protocols are continuously being developed.  Finally, paramedics must be in good physical state; lifting injured people from turned over vehicles or carrying them on long flights of stairs places heavy demands on the body.
How long are shifts?  
Most shifts are 12 hours long. In the City of Allentown most full-time paramedics work a four day on – four day off rotation. Shift starts are staggered to allow for the efficient coverage of paramedics crews for the city. Allentown paramedics also staff our specialty response teams which means they may be called on at any time to serve on the Special Operations (Hazmat/Technical Rescue), Dive, ERT, or support our Fire Department's Bomb Squad.
What types of calls do you handle?  
One thing that attracts people to this field is the range of medical and trauma calls you will do during your shift in a dynamic city such as Allentown. The inability to predict the emergency you'll be handling in the next few minutes makes this an exciting career. One minute you may be holding a newborn that you've helped deliver, while, perhaps, an hour later, you’ll be consoling a grieving widow.  The greatest majority of calls are for medical type emergencies; abdominal pain, cardiac related chest pains, strokes and difficulty breathing. Then there are also calls for traumatic injuries from car collisions, falls and sports related injuries. These injuries range from fractures to legs, arms, and pelvis, hips or head injuries. Allentown’s paramedics also transfer critically injured people from one medical facility to another.
How are calls received and dispatched?  
All emergency calls are received through Allentown’s public safety coordinated 9-1-1 communications center. Medically trained communications technicians will quickly confirm location of the call and will ask key questions that enable them to determine the medical nature of the emergency and assign the call a priority.

Call priorities are:

  • Delta/Echo: Life threatening call – Life or limb at risk and time is of the essence.
  • Charlie: Urgent call – Not immediately life threatening, but the call is of serious nature.
  • Bravo: Emergent call – Generally non-life threatening and not of a serious nature.
  • Alpha: Low priority emergency - Non-urgent/non life threatening calls.
Once the priority is assigned to the call, selection of the most appropriate response is made and the paramedics are informed of the call's nature and location. Depending on the priority, our partners in the fire department may be dispatched with paramedics for assistance. Allentown police may also be dispatched depending on the nature of the call.

What happens once the paramedics arrive at the patient?
Upon arriving at the location of a call, paramedics will make an initial assessment of the medical state of the patient, starting with the ABC's; Airway, Breathing and Circulation. Next the level of consciousness, breathing, pulse/heart rates and external bleeding are all assessed and treated at this time. Then paramedics move on to collect the medical history of the event that led the patient to call. Further tests and assessments may also be made, while the other paramedic gathers information like; medications, allergies and prior hospital visits. Should the call point towards a cardiac emergency, a cardiac monitor is applied for the capture on-site analysis of a 12-lead electrocardiogram.  Further treatments and medication will be administered on-site or on the way to the hospital, based on the nature of the medical emergency.
Generally speaking, what are the most critical medical emergency paramedics respond to? 
Cardiac or respiratory arrest calls are by far, the most demanding calls in terms of utilization of resources and time. Paramedics will commence CPR (as quickly as possible), insert a breathing tube directly in the lungs, apply the cardiac monitor, deliver defibrillation shocks to the heart and insert an intravenous line that enables delivery life-saving drugs in an attempt to restart the heart. Calls of this nature typically take double the time of a normal call.
Sounds like you must almost constantly stay in contact with doctors?
No. Allentown’s paramedics have the authority of our staff medical director that enables them to practice paramedicine within a set of state approved medical protocols. They have intensive education and yearly recertification that maintains the paramedics' high level of skills for all situations of medical emergencies. At times, calls are made to an on-call emergency room physician in order to deviate or extend the normal medical protocol.
I suppose there is a lot of paperwork?  
Yes. For all assessments and treatments provided, paramedics must complete a Patent Care Report or “chart”; basically, a medical chart denotes assessment findings, lists of medications taken by the patient, prior medical history, treatments delivered and other medical procedures done on the patient. Additional reports must also be completed for unusual occurrences. These documents are being used for administrative, clinical, billing, legal and research purposes.

You can see that City of Allentown cares about our citizens and visitors. Allentown’s paramedics are large part of the safety and comfort of this city – and we are proud to be of service to you.