HJR 604/SJR 444

Joint Subcommittee to Study Regulations Governing Volunteer Fire Departments and Emergency Medical Services

August 23, 2001, Richmond

During its first meeting, the joint subcommittee reviewed its charge, which consists of two components. The first component involves examining the feasibility of streamlining regulations and guidelines that pertain to reporting requirements for volunteer fire departments and rescue squads. The second component involves reviewing the ability of volunteer emergency services providers to respond to traffic accidents in rural or sparsely populated areas of the Commonwealth.

Reporting Requirements

The need to satisfy reporting requirements has increasingly become an important issue for many volunteer fire services and emergency operations. As the trend of volunteer fire departments' also providing emergency medical services becomes more prevalent, such departments are increasingly faced with the task of satisfying reporting requirements and guidelines that have been developed by two separate agencies—the Department of Fire Programs (DFP) and the Board of Health (BOH). The resulting dual reporting requires the use of valuable time that is taken away from other important tasks.

Under the statutory mandate of the Fire Services Board to develop and implement a statewide plan for collection, analysis and reporting of data relating to fires in the Commonwealth, the DFP administers the Virginia Fire Incident Reporting System. Information from the reporting system is used to help assess the status of fire services and protection at the state, regional and local levels. The BOH is charged with establishing a comprehensive emergency medical services patient care collection and evaluation system pursuant to the mandate of the Emergency Medical Services Patient Care Information System statute. The pre-hospital patient care reporting (PPCR) system differs from the VFIRS system in two important ways. First, participation in the PPCR is mandatory; all emergency medical service providers are required to provide the requested data on forms developed by the BOH or locally developed forms containing equivalent information. Second, patient information must be kept confidential and the BOH is required by statute to develop a mechanism for protecting patient data obtained through the reporting system.

DFP representatives explained how VFIRS operates. The computer-based system is based on a national fire information reporting system. The system is not mandatory and at present roughly 40 percent of the fire service providers covering just over 60 percent of the state's population participate in the system. Eighty percent of the responses submitted by participating fire services providers consist of the two-page basic report module. The remaining 20 percent require additional informational modules that are triggered based on what the fire service provider encounters on the scene. DFP provides training, technical support and software to participating entities. In addition, grants for purchasing computers are provided to further facilitate participation. It was noted to the joint subcommittee that all fire service providers participating in VFIRS are not a part of the mandatory PPCR system. If the fire service provider is not required to participate in the PPCR system, the DFP asks that the VFIRS emergency medical services module be completed.

The director of the Office of Emergency Medical Services (OEMS) appeared on behalf of the Department of Health to discuss the PPCR system. The system is based on the National Uniform EMS Data Set developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The OEMs provides both technical and financial assistance to EMS providers to comply with the reporting requirement. The data may be provided in a variety of ways including scannable forms, electronic file and computer upload. Nearly full participation in the program is achieved.

Methods for alleviating dual reporting were suggested by members of the joint subcommittee, including the use of a two-page field form with basic information on the first page and patient-care-related data on the second page. In addition, it was suggested that OEMs take the lead in making its forms more available to non-EMS providers. Both the DFP and OEMs indicated that they had been working toward a solution to the reporting problem. The two agencies were requested to continue their work and report back to the joint subcommittee at its next meeting.

Traffic Accidents in Rural Areas

The second component of the joint subcommittee's charge involves (i) reviewing the ability of volunteer fire and rescue squads in sparsely populated areas to respond to traffic crashes on major state and interstate highways, (ii) studying the effect of the increasing reliance on volunteer fire and emergency services to respond to such crashes, and (iii) if appropriate, recommending changes to alleviate any problems and to ensure the safety of travelers on Virginia's highways.

A representative of the Virginia Transportation Research Council presented preliminary figures regarding two sets of data. The first set involved the changes in the total number of fatal and injury crashes on interstate highways in the state between 1998 and 2000. According to this data, several counties adjacent to I-95 experienced an increase in the total number of fatal and injury crashes. In addition, two counties adjacent to I-85 and one county adjacent to I-77 experienced increases.

The second set of data viewed the changes in the percentage of injury and fatal crashes on the interstate highways that run through the state versus other roads in the state for the same time period. According to these figures, the only increases occurred in Carroll, Mecklenburg and Brunswick counties. In generating the data, it was assumed that most accidents involving serious injuries or fatalities were responded to by an EMS vehicle accident run. While only three years of crash data were used, an analysis using more years could be performed if the joint subcommittee desired.

The Honorable R. Steven Landes, Chairman
Legislative Services contact: Amigo R. Wade


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