Introducing ways to save lives, help community — Port Arthur Fire Department pushing impact

Published 12:30 am Sunday, April 16, 2023

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Approximately 12 members of the community were trained Friday in hands-only CPR and basic bleeding control.

Three days prior, dozens of first responders and medical personnel from various agencies in the state went through an eight-hour course on mass casualty incident response.

And both were just a few examples of how the Port Arthur Fire Department is working in the city and with surrounding departments to bring awareness and opportunity to the region.

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“One of the priorities is the department needs to be engaged in the community to meet those needs,” said Fire Chief Greg Benson. “And so having more of that community interaction is important.”

It’s been Benson’s goal since he first stepped into the role in July 2021. And in less than two years, the department’s outreach is undeniable.

Lifesaving changes

Friday’s community CPR class was the first, with a second already planned for the end of the month. While it was not a certification class, those in attendance were taught hands-only CPR and basic bleeding control at no cost to them.

“Without Chief Benson, we wouldn’t have been able to do this,” said Port Arthur Fire Engineer Dustin Lowe. “He’s putting a lot of things in place where we are able to educate a lot of the public on this stuff, so it makes our job a whole lot easier when someone starts this stuff up before we even get there.”

In the last year, Lowe said he and the two other members of PAFD in the class have arrived on four scenes where the patient was in full respiratory arrest and a bystander had begun CPR before the department arrived. All four survived.

“Doing something is better than nothing,” Lowe said. “Even if you don’t feel confidant you did it right, that’s OK. At least you did something.”

On Tuesday, PAFD partnered with the Southeast Texas Regional Advisory Council and Christus Southeast Texas to provide mass casualty training to first responders and medical personnel from a multitude of different agencies in the state.

And it’s something Benson said they intend to do annually to ensure all departments are communicating properly in a critical situation.

And in August, PAFD began using two AutoPulse machines, which provide automated CPR. The two devices, which are the only of their kind in Port Arthur and Mid County, were secured through City Council at $20,000 each.

“The success that the AutoPulse has had has been phenomenal,” Benson said. “There have been lives saved because of that AutoPulse.”

Future changes

As technology evolves, so has training.

“We’re seeing more electric vehicles,” Benson said. “Those are very different from gas-powered vehicles when they catch on fire. Solar panels on houses have storage batteries associated with them, so we have to start looking at those, too — how do we address those needs?”

In addition, PAFD is working on a community risk assessment, which Benson called a systematic look at where risks are and how they can be communicated to all necessary agencies.

Members of the department’s dive team have started regular searches of waterways in and around the city after the recovery of a vehicle last summer led to the discovery of a second one that solved a 14-year-old case of a missing man.

And PAFD is putting a strong focus on ensuring they have the necessary buildings and equipment to assist in any situation.

The schematic drawings for the construction of two new fire stations — No. 2 and No. 3 — will go before City Council at the next regular meeting, and if approved, will enter design development.

Benson said with the estimated timeline, they expect to break ground in October with all work complete at the end of 2024.

In addition, they’re assessing the needs of the other buildings.

“There’s a lot of upgrading that needs to be done,” he said. “None of our fire stations have diesel exhaust systems, which they all need to have. Several of our fire stations need to have remodeling done to adapt to when we get females on the job.

“The fire stations are really critical community infrastructure. So if we can address some things there to make them a little more stronger so that when the next natural disaster or human-caused event occurs, it has better capability, is resilient  and does not get damaged.”