Aetna Hose Hook and Ladder follows their motto: Service for Others
By Carla Lucas
With nearly 11,000 calls a year, Aetna
Hose Hook and Ladder Company's Fire and EMS departments serve around
100,000 people in a 41.8 square mile area. Their goal is to be on
their way with the first piece of apparatus in 60 seconds or less
from the moment they receive a call. This happens an average of 22
times per day.
“Aetna is very proud of its long history, having been established in 1888,” said Amy Fitzgerald, Aetna's Deputy EMS Chief. “Daily, members follow the motto of, 'Service for others.'” Currently Aetna HHL has 400 members, of which 80 are active firefighters and EMTs.
“We are the second busiest district in the state,” said Deputy Chief John Guzzo. “We deliver an outstanding product for the community.”
Fitzgerald added that Aetna HHL handles a very high volume of calls since the district covers an incredibly wide demographic of people, and includes both passenger and freight railroads, the interstate, state parks, and the University of Delaware.
Aetna HHL is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with career staff and part-time paid staff at two of their four stations, 21 hours a day at the third station, and 14 hours at the fourth station. The career staff are trained for both fire and EMS service.
“Many of our career staff have been chief officers at their home departments,” Guzzo said. “Our career staff is a huge asset. They bring their experience [to Newark] to help.”
All stations are staffed with highly trained volunteers. Many volunteers spend the night as a “duty crew” while even more respond from home for dispatched alarms.
“These people have families, jobs, are in school, and still make time to help our community,” Guzzo said. “They epitomize 'Service for Others.'”
Over the years, the number of fire calls has decreased as the number of EMS calls has sharply risen, said John Farrell IV, Aetna's Public Information Officer. He credits the decrease in fires to strong building codes and fire suppression legislation within the City of Newark's borders. In the 1990s, Aetna HHL worked with Newark City Council to adopt legislation requiring all new construction – commercial and residential – to include a sprinkler system. Larger interior renovation projects (50 percent of a dwelling) must have a sprinkler system installed as well.
“We see a huge fire as a failure,” Farrell said. “When we go to a building with a sprinkler system and the fire was contained, that doesn't make the news.” The good news is this is now the norm rather than the exception for Newark. Most of the company's larger fires are single-family dwellings outside of the city's borders.
Of Aetna's annual calls, only about 2,900 are fire calls, with more than half of them non-events, especially from automatic alarm systems going off. About half of the remaining calls are for auto accidents. The smallest percentage of runs is for actual fires. About six percent of Aetna's call are mutual aid assistance in other New Castle County districts as well as in Cecil County, Md., and Chester County, Pa.
But when a large fire does occur, Aetna HHL is ready. Firefighters train weekly at local places as well as with the Delaware State fire School. “Our firefighters are trained to the most stringent requirements and certifications,” Farrell said.
The company recently received two FEMA grants for state-of-the-art equipment for its firefighters. In 2014, a $110,000 grant was used to purchase 42 sets of personal protection gear (boots, helmets and clothing). Last year, they received $320,000 for new 60-minute SCBA (Self Contained Breathing Apparatus), which now on order, to replace some outdated, unusable equipment.
Guzzo said one of the strengths of Aetna HHL is its community partnerships with the City of Newark, the University of Delaware, and local businesses and industrial sites. There is communication between all entities and the opportunity to train for various scenarios through these partnerships.
Guzzo shared an example of a forcible entry class that Aetna hosted. “This was a top-caliber class with nationally recognized instructors, and we trained side by side with Newark Police and New Castle County Police SWAT team members,” he said. “Our relationship with law enforcement helps us as we respond on many of the same calls, and in case of a large-scale incident, we'll be even better equipped to collectively handle whatever challenge we face.”
Aetna's Emergency Medical (EMS) division handles about 8,000 incidents per year; an average of 22 incidents per day. About 55 percent of the calls are for Basic Life Support. The remaining 45 percent are Advanced Life Support calls, and Aetna is assisted by New Castle County's paramedics unit. Aetna's EMS department responds to about 500 car accidents each year. Although the University of Delaware has its own emergency care unit, Aetna EMS supports them at large crowd events such as football games, and graduation.
“We have an EMS bike team which we deploy for large events such as parades on Main Street and events at the UD Stadium,” Fitzgerald said about events where navigating an ambulance through a large crowd can be challenging. “The EMTs staffing the bikes are often able to first locate patients and provide immediate care.”
Fitzgerald is proud of Aetna's EMS staff. “We offer monthly EMS training to our staff and try to stay ahead of the curve and participate in pilot programs being led but Delaware's Office of Emergency Medical Services,” she said. “We have trained to work as a team in treating patients in cardiac arrest. On such a scene, all responders have a specific role. We have worked hard to ensure all responders -- EMTs and firefighters alike -- are knowledgeable in the 'pit-crew CPR' concept, and the resulting number of cardiac arrest survivors from our district is incredible.” In February, 36 personnel from the Aetna, Hose, Hook & Ladder Company were recognized by New Castle County EMS at the Fourth Annual Sudden Cardiac Arrest Survivor's Reunion.
The biggest challenge for both Aetna Fire and EMS divisions is staffing and volunteers. Guzzo invites anyone interested in learning more about volunteering as an EMT or firefighter to come to one of the company's Wednesday evening training sessions. “We have a huge need for all kinds of volunteers, not just firefighters and EMTs” Guzzo said. “We are a business and we need to run efficiently.”
Another major challenge is financing. Aetna relies heavily on community donations.
Residents are also encouraged to like Aetna's Facebook page, Aetna Hose, Hook & Ladder Company, to be updated on the latest information as well as share feedback about Aenta's service in the community. Check out Aetna HHL's website for details about the company and information on local incidents, at www.aetnahhl.org.