Danika Madison has worked for about eight years with Central Pierce Fire & Rescue, primarily as a paramedic.
The 40-year-old was a dispatcher for part of that time, and just over a week ago was promoted to lieutenant of prevention and education for the department.
She’s married to a fellow firefighter and is the mother a 14-month-old boy.
Now, her job is to help the public better understand what it is paramedics and other firefighters do.
Question: Can you walk through what the responsibilities of a paramedic are, from the start of a 911 call to the end?
Answer: We get information: an age, a gender, a chief complaint.
As soon as we get that information (from dispatch), we’re already starting to come up with a plan.
When we get on scene, we are in charge of three major elements: managing patient care, managing the personnel at the scene and determining where we’re going to go as far as the transport decision.
It’s a full assessment of what’s going on with the patient then coming up with a treatment plan.
Everybody always asks: “Why does a fire engine come to the medical emergency call?”
There’s a lot going on. Equipment that’s needed, vital signs and assessments, history that we need to obtain from the patient and also medications.
We don’t want to dillydally. Everybody has a role. It expedites the call.
The paramedic manages the flow of that.
Q: How do you decide which hospital a patient goes to?
A: The closest, because the sooner we can get a patient to their definitive care, then the sooner the emergency room can get the ball rolling. Secondly, the sooner we can return to service, we can care for other people.
Certain hospitals have different capabilities, so your patient’s illness or injury determines what facility you can go to.
For example, if someone has a significant trauma, we will transport them to a trauma facility, which is Tacoma General or (St. Joseph).
There is a trauma team of specialized personnel, and they float back and forth every day. We take the patient to whichever one is the trauma facility (that day).
Q: Do paramedics have partners?
A: I had my rescue driver. He’s the guy that gets me to the hospital, gets me to the call, saves my butt. He’s the most important asset on that medic unit, as far as I’m concerned.
They take care of everything — just watching your back, making sure you don’t forget something.
Q: Can you share a story of a particularly memorable case?
A: I have one that sticks with me.
A man in his 50s had some pretty significant chest pain and shortness of breath one day. He called 911 and then the phone went blank.
He had gone into cardiac arrest.
We found him on the kitchen floor completely unresponsive, pulse-less and not breathing.
The wife walked in with groceries as we were there, set them on the table. As we’re doing chest compressions to her husband, she’s saying: “Oh, hello, dear, hi dear, you’re going to be OK.”
Who knows if he could hear her or not? People have all these strange ways of coping with stress during emergencies.
He did the right thing. He called 911 when he had chest pain.
He had been by himself, and he would not have been able to shake my hand when I visited him in the hospital three days later if he had waited a second longer.
Q: How often do paramedics not hear about a patient’s outcome?
A: That’s probably one of the biggest downfalls to being a paramedic. You get to help someone right in the beginning, but you don’t get to hear what the result was.
It’s difficult to follow up with patients because you have to make contact with that patient’s nurse, ask if it’s OK to follow-up later with them.
There’s (federal privacy law), and you can’t just call a hospital and say: “I brought this guy in earlier, can you tell me how he’s doing?”
Patients get handed off to the next nurse, move to a different wing. There’s not a whole lot you can do.
With this guy (who called about the chest pain), I asked what room he was in. I knocked, and they let me in.
I just happened to have a couple minutes. But you want to get back to the next call.
Q: What do you think is important for people to know about the job of a paramedic?
A: That people who get into the paramedic profession are interested in helping people be safe and helping them during their worst days.
There’s a tremendous amount of knowledge that’s needed for the job, and it requires a lot of ongoing education.
Q: How did you choose the profession?
A: I had an opportunity to work on the Seattle Fallen Firefighters Memorial.
My last quarter at the (University of Washington) I decided to take a bunch of art classes. One of them was a sculpture class, and my professor invited me to come work for him. That’s how I got involved.
I was just fascinated, because we studied the firefighters, studied their movements, what they did. That’s when I first got interested.
I befriended a fire department officer out in Cleveland, Ohio, and asked him one day: ‘What do I need to do to be a firefighter.’ And he said: ‘Go to paramedic school.’ And that’s what I did.
Q: What are the best and worst parts of being a paramedic?
A: Worst: The long hours. Being exposed to hazards: pathogens, illness, flu.
Sometimes you can go to a scene and be physically active for hours, and it can be demanding if it’s through the middle of the night.
The best parts are definitely being able to help people, the excitement of what’s next. There’s always going to be something that you weren’t going to predict that’s going to come up.
The community is fantastic. We get to chat with a lot of people. A woman named Helen was bringing me a homemade cake about once a week.
Q: How does your new job compare?
A: Like every new job there’s inherent stress in the beginning. There’s a million things to do, but I’m really enjoying it.
I’m moving from a 24-hour shift, three shifts every nine days, to working four 10-hour shifts.
I miss my crew, I miss my partner and I miss going on calls, but I love, love, love being able to see my baby when I go home after work. I love being able to sleep in my own bed.
I’ve already given some fire extinguisher classes.
As far as being the public education specialist, I think it’s going to behoove me quite a bit understanding other major parts of our department. The public wants to know what it is we do and how things work. They’re very intrigued and they have a lot of questions.
To be such a prominent voice now, being that I’m out in the community, I can answer those questions for people.alexis.krell@ thenewstribune.com www.thenewstribune.com/crime-news