Timmy Trains Local Emergency Responders
By: August Longino, Timmy Medical Brigade Coordinator, Tena, Ecuador
Many of Ecuador’s health challenges stem from one chronic problem: underfunded, ineffective institutions. This includes not only the major hospitals, but also medical schools, the ministry of public health, and at the most basic level, emergency response. In the developed world, we take it for granted that when (not if) the ambulance arrives, it will be well stocked, and crewed by trained professionals. This is not the case in Ecuador. Here, the bomberos, or firefighters, are the first to respond to any emergency. They put out fires, arrive first at car accidents, perform disaster relief, respond to house calls, and much more. Where we have 911, Ecuadorians have the bomberos. Unfortunately, cuerpos de bomberos are generally poorly staffed, underpaid, and composed largely of untrained volunteers. This results in a high number of easily preventable negative outcomes.
For this reason, Timmy Global Health decided to provide a 2-day long emergency first aid course for the bomberos of Tena and Archidona. Amber Valenti, a Physician’s Assistant that specializes in remote wilderness medicine, and Molly Downey, a paramedic, taught the course. August Longino, Timmy’s Medical Brigade Coordinator, translated for the 20 Ecuadorian firemen that attended. The 16-hour class covered first aid basics like wound care, vital signs, and immobilization of broken limbs, as well as the correct procedures for dealing with emergency victims. Concepts like immobilizing the spine of unconscious trauma patients, or even the use of basic CPR were new concepts that were eagerly absorbed, and generated many questions. All students successfully passed the final evaluation, a scenario involving multiple victims with a variety of problems, from trauma to asphyxiation.
By intervening at an institutional, rather than individual level, Timmy affects a far greater number of potential patients. During a brigade, Timmy doctors treat an average of 160 patients per day, for a period of 7 days. But by spending just two days training two entire squads of bomberos, Timmy has significantly improved the quality of care for countless patients throughout the region. The class was a tremendous success, and tearful goodbyes were said as the class ended, and the instructors headed home. As Timmy becomes a more established presence here in Napo Province, we hope to provide more high-level, wide-reaching interventions like this one. Currently, Timmy Global Health is fundraising to organize another, much more intensive wilderness medicine course for other bomberos, as well as for Timmy’s community health promoters.