The City of Breezy Point with over 2,346 full-time residents sees that number soar to 5,000-10,000, given the seasonal nature of the community. Coupled with a continued growth in new home starts and an aging population, the city was experiencing a dramatic increase in the number of requests for emergency medical services. As it were, during life threatening emergencies, the police department and local first responders were notified and responded within minutes to begin providing first aid. However, life saving medications and equipment were often 15-20 minutes away because the nearest ambulances were stationed outside of city limits in Crosslake, Pine River and Brainerd. Adding to the dilemma was the fact that those ambulances were not staffed 24/7 or may already be dedicated to another call. This resulted in additional delay until ambulance personnel could be dispatched.
Recognizing the severity of the problem, the department researched options to address the needs of the community. Establishing a city owned ambulance service, or contracting for permanent ambulance coverage proved to be much too costly. The ultimate solution came as a one-of-a-kind partnership between the City of Breezy Point and North Memorial Ambulance Service (NMAS) beginning in March of 2005. The program consists of the department employing Police Officers who are certified as Paramedics, while North Memorial provides the necessary equipment and medical control. The benefit is the Police Officer/Paramedics ability to administer advanced emergency care, not just basic first aid. The life saving skills provided by these highly trained officers includes: administering several medications, intravenous therapy, endotracheal intubation, cardiac monitoring and defibrillation. When a call for help is received, Police Paramedics are dispatched immediately and are able to begin advanced life support (ALS) procedures within minutes; long before the ambulance arrives.
Although other communities offer similar programs, Breezy Point was able to mold the concept to meet its unique and specific needs. With only six police officers and a limited budget, the department actively recruits officers already trained in both specialties. By doing so, the department is able to save thousands of dollars it would take to train current employees. With most equipment and medications provided by NMAS, the costs incurred by the department are minimal. The department pays an average of $14,000 annually for the program to exist; in comparison to the estimated $400,000+ per year it would cost to staff an ALS ambulance service.
Officers Josef Garcia and Jason Rieber currently serve as Police Paramedics. To maximize coverage, these officers work primarily at night when ambulance response times are the longest. They are also equipped with pagers for the times when they are not on duty. When alerted to an emergency they will respond in personally assigned squad cars carrying a full complement of ALS equipment. The Paramedic Officers are also casually employed by NMAS where they are required to maintain compliance with all continuing education and clinical standards of NMAS.
The success of the program is readily apparent in lives saved and Police Paramedics have been recognized for their life saving efforts. In 2006, former Police Paramedic Dan Sathre received the Minnesota Ambulance Association Star of Life Award, and was recognized at the state capitol. The Minnesota State Legislature recognized the program again in 2007 when Police Paramedic Josef Garcia also received the same award. In 2008 the City of Excellence Award was presented to Breezy Point by the League of Minnesota Cities recognizing the city’s innovation for the program.
The benefits of the program can also be seen beyond the city limits. Through contracted police services, the department extends Police Paramedic services to Pelican Township. The department also responds to requests for mutual aid assistance in the nearby townships of Ideal and Mission and the cities of Pequot Lakes, Nisswa and Crosslake on occasion. These communities recognized the significance of the assistance provided. In 2010 Chief Kevin Merschman requested help funding the purchase of a second 12 lead heart monitor for the program, and they readily donated to the cause.
Additionally, the department provides a Police Paramedic to the multi-agency Crow Wing County Tactical Response Team. The unique combination of a licensed peace officer and certified paramedic allows for the delivery of emergency medical care in unconventional tactical environments where it would otherwise be impossible.
In 2012 the Minnesota Heart Resuscitation Consortium of the University of Minnesota awarded a $10,000 grant towards the purchase of an automated CPR device. Utilizing a rechargeable battery; the device performs the compressions in CPR consistently without tiring, and frees the Police Paramedic to initiate advanced airways and IV procedures before additional assistance arrives on scene. The addition of this piece of equipment will result in even more successful outcomes for the community.
Although patient confidentiality prevents discussing many of the cases the program has had an impact on, some individuals have agreed to allow information to be released. In June of 2008 Daniel Biermeier of Detroit Lakes was participating in the Tour of Lakes Bicycle ride when he experienced cardiac arrest. Five days later he walked out of the hospital and later shook hands with the officers who worked his case at a Lifesaver award presentation. Elaine Gilbert of Ideal Township suffered cardiac arrest in June of 2011. She also attended a Lifesaver award ceremony offering hugs for those involved with saving her life. In 2012, a 58 year old man was experiencing difficulty breathing. Paramedic Officer Rieber utilized the 12 lead heart monitor to diagnose a condition known as a complete heart block. After establishing an IV and sedating the patient, the monitor was used as a pacemaker until he was transferred by air to a facility that could address his needs. Without this training and equipment, officers would have simply applied oxygen and waited for the patient to code to begin CPR. This condition would not have produced a shockable heart rhythm for an AED.
Some cases have not been as successful but a significant impact has still been expressed by the families. Patients whose lives have simply been extended by the program allow the family a chance to say their goodbyes for which they are eternally grateful. A Pelican Township resident, John Luce, expressed sincere gratitude for the assistance his wife, Teri Monroe, received as she battled terminal cancer.
With this program, the Breezy Point Police Department has been able to offer a level of service well beyond what is offered by cities of similar size. The department was able to increase public safety while minimizing the cost to taxpayers. The department working with North Memorial Ambulance Service is able to approach medical care needs of the community in an innovative fashion, and in a way which saves money by drawing upon the respective expertise and resources of the department and NMAS. The program would not be successful without the dedication of the Paramedic Officers who readily and eagerly respond to calls for help, and the support of the city’s governing body.