January 24, 2011

By Bill Jaynes
The Kaselehlie Press

Pohnpei, FSM-On January 10, the Pohnpei State Department of Public Safety (DPS) received a new ambulance and basic life support equipment from Mahi International* (pronounced Mahee), a Pohnpei based non profit group that services the entire FSM. Mahi International received the ambulance and medical supplies from a donor in the United States who asked that his name not be publicized. The donor also made a commitment to provide three more ambulances to Mahi International over the next three years to be used wherever Mahi decides that the need and the ability to use the ambulances properly is most demonstrable throughout the FSM.

Certainly the Pohnpei State Hospital has received ambulance donations before but this particular donation along with some innovative thinking has motivated Pohnpei DPS to make serious plans to greatly improve the current ambulance services.

According to Rick Herman, a former small town Colorado Fire Chief who is working with Pohnpei DPS in their effort to improve emergency responses, Mahi International told government officials that their donor wasn't interested in providing ambulances if they would only be used as a kind of fancy taxi.

In August of 2010 Pohnpei's Governor John Ehsa wrote a letter pledging his support for the development of Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT) to improve ambulance services for the people of Pohnpei. That was just the sort of commitment Mahi International needed on behalf of their donor. Mahi donated the ambulance and basic life support equipment to help the State get new emergency medical services up and running.

Herman said that in the past, ambulances in Pohnpei have been driven by people without medical skills. Additionally, no one with medical skills rides in the back of the ambulance to care for a patient while they are being transported to the hospital.

But that set of circumstances is set to change.

DPS Director Lucas Carlos said, "Ambulance and fire/rescue incidents are infrequent, but when they do happen we recognize that the threat to life and property are critical. The concept of the ESU is to provide professional level emergency services with existing law enforcement personnel, increasing the efficiency of use of personnel and budget."

He said that while there will be some increase in budgetary needs the use of existing personnel will mean that DPS can minimize increased costs. The program is being developed with the approval and cooperation of Pohnpei State Director of Health Service, Dr. Keller. Carlos says that Keller agreed to allow the portion of the Health Services budget currently being spent on ambulance and security services at the hospital to be reprogrammed to the DPS. DPS will be taking over the operation of the ambulances entirely and two officers will be stationed at the hospital who, in addition to assisting at the hospital thereby increasing their own medical skills, could also provide for the hospital's security needs.

The Emergency Services Unit (ESU) is a newly forming team within the State Department of Public Safety. It will be a group within the Police and Security Division of DPS in much the same way as the SWAT and Hazardous Materials groups are part of that division.

ESU members will have special training as Emergency Medical Technicians and will staff ambulances to provide high quality emergency care. They will also have training as firefighters with professional level skills in firefighting, land and sea search and rescue, hazardous materials, and mass casualty/disaster response.

Herman said that police officers in Pohnpei have already begun to approach him to express interest in being selected for the special training. "They come to me and say, 'I want to be involved,' and this is before they even know that officers with EMT training will likely be given a bit more money," Herman said.

Personnel selections have not yet been made but DPS hopes to train eight employees of the Airport Rescue and Firefighting team and as many as 12 Pohnpei State Police officers to be EMTs.

Herman said that the Department is excited about the possibility of mobilizing the donation of the other ambulances after EMTs are fully trained. He said that if Pohnpei DPS is the recipient of future Mahi donations the goal over the next few years will be to station one ambulance along with trained personnel at each of the DPS substations in Pohnpei.

In a matter unrelated to the donation of the ambulance but crucial to DPS operations in Pohnpei, the department has also begun consultation with a local company to establish an island wide radio system. Police radios operate on "line of sight." Radio signals radiate out in a straight line and geographic features such as the interior mountains of Pohnpei block those signals which currently come only from an antenna at the summit of Sokehs Mountain. Because of Pohnpei's topography the majority of the island currently has no police radio capability.

The plan that is currently being developed would use repeaters situated at several places around the island. The signal from Sokehs Mountain would be transmitted to receivers within that antenna's line of sight and then would be retransmitted to as many repeaters as are necessary in order to establish 100% radio coverage of Pohnpei's main island.

Carlos said, "We pledge to continue to strive toward developing improved emergency medical services and emergency services in general for the people of Pohnpei."

*Mahi International also donated a container full of medical equipment including 20 hospital beds, five of which were given to the College of Micronesia - FSM for their developing Nurse training program. Fifteen were given to the Pohnpei State Hospital. They also donated two new EKG machines. Mahi International representative John Schroer said that the list of supplies they donated covered two pages that weren't available at press time and will be the subject of an article in an upcoming issue of The Kaselehlie Press.