July 2012


Author: David Tobias | Photographer: Photography by Anne

If Hilton Head Island ordinances allowed (which they don’t), now would be a great time to drape a big banner across Highway 278 declaring Hilton Head Island Number One, because we are—the top Fire and Rescue EMS program and the number one Heart Safe Community in the country.

The award was presented in May by the International Association of Fire Chiefs at its Fire Rescue Medical Conference in Las Vegas, and Hilton Head Island won for communities with populations under 100,000.

It’s the second time in two years the program has been recognized, although last year’s award was an honorable mention. This one is the big kahuna and represents years of effort by the Fire Department, the Town of Hilton Head Island and Hilton Head Hospital, to assemble a top notch EMS and cardiac arrest response infrastructure.

Recognizing Hilton Head Island as an exceptional community for fire and rescue EMS is not a surprise to Fire Chief Lavarn Lucas. The Hilton Head Island Fire Department has been training about 400 people a year in CPR for years, selling out every class.

Cardiac response programs have been also in place for years, including defibrillator training for plantation security departments, schools and even resorts.

But over the last several years the chief, his department, the Town of Hilton Head and the Hilton Head Hospital have worked on a coordinated effort, utilizing training programs, state-of-the-art communications systems, and consistent protocols to improve efficiency and effectiveness in response, transportation and treatment.

The result is Hilton Head Island’s program has been proven successful, especially for “witnessed cardiac events” where Hilton Head Island’s survival rate is 40 percent higher than the national average.

Lucas says there’s a standing joke about Hilton Head Island—one of those dark jokes that only people in the business of life and death can tell—that if you’re going to have a heart attack, the best place to have it is right here on Hilton Head Island.“That’s in no way a reflection on any other part of Beaufort County or Jasper County,” Lucas is quick to add. “We’re just saying we have excellent care here, EMS is centralized, we will send more responders. They’re well trained, and the entire program is coordinated.

When we get them to Hilton Head Hospital quickly and efficiently, with treatment along the way, they can count on a level of care you’re just not going to find anywhere else in the country for a community this size.”

The chief said he is proud to have put in a place something he calls “the NASCAR model” for the program, and he gives that strategy credit for the program’s success, and the subsequent award. “Everyone has seen a car come into pit row to have the tires changed,” Lucas said. “It’s a choreographed event. We looked at that and adopted a pit crew concept. When we send people to this emergency, everybody knows exactly what they’re going to do and how they’re going to work together.”

The chief also gives credit to a number of people in the community whose passion for EMS programs contributed in a large way to the success and the award, including Capt. Eric Leinhart of the fire department’s training division, Deputy Chief Brad Tadloff, Captain Tom Bouthillet, Fire Marshall Joheida Fister, Assistant Town Manager Greg DeLoach, Kelly Arashin, clinical nurse specialist with the Hilton Head Hospital, and the nursing and emergency room staffs at Hilton Head Hospital.

It’s been a great team effort and a great award, he said.

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