City Life

Fire Chief Joe Molina

Fire chief beefs up CPR, fire prevention efforts

Vancouver Fire Chief Joe Molina speaks fondly in his calm yet authoritative voice about his department’s important role in the community, new projects and his love for the job.

As Chief for the City of Vancouver, he has many roles and responsibilities. He oversees the activities of the fire department including fire suppression, special operations, Emergency Medical Services (EMS) as well as fire and life safety code compliance. His responsibilities also include overseeing both the City of Vancouver and Fire District 5, an area encompassing 92-square-miles and 250,000 Clark County residents. The Fire Department operates 10 fire stations with personnel on duty 24 hours-a-day, seven days a week.

“We handle about 24,000 calls throughout the year from those stations,” Chief Molina says. About 76 percent are EMS calls with the remaining calls covering everything from public assistance, water rescues and motor vehicle accidents to structure fires. Fire events have declined locally and across the country in recent years and now only account for a small percentage of the department’s emergency calls. In addition to fighting fires and responding to emergency calls, the Vancouver Fire Department has developed educational programs aimed at assisting in medical emergencies and preventing fires.

Chief Molina is especially excited about the advent of PulsePoint, a free smart phone app that alerts Clark County subscribers, who are cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) trained, to a cardiac arrest in a public location at the same time emergency responders are notified. About a year ago after reviewing the application’s use in California, he worked with his department and the county to be the first county in Washington to launch the application.

PulsePoint gives citizen responders mapping directions, notifies them of any automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) in the area and provides streaming audio of the emergency responders’ radio traffic. Subscribers can also use the PulsePoint app to view active fire and emergency medical incidents and monitor emergency radio traffic. Molina underscores the fact that early CPR is the key to victim survival. When a person goes into cardiac arrest, their heart, brain and other vital organs no longer receive oxygen. Researchers have found that with CPR in the first 3 to 5 minutes, victims’ chances of survival dramatically increase.

The PulsePoint CPR app can be found in the Apple App store, or in Android Apps on Google Play. To access the web app on your desktop or laptop computer, go to http://webapp.pulsepoint.org/ and select “Clark County, Washington — CRESA” from the Agency dropdown menu at the top of the page.

“The app helps you get to the scene of someone who needs help. And now CPR is a lot simpler than it used to be—there’s no need to be certified or take a class,” Chief Molina said. “Today, we promote hands-only CPR. There is no requirement to do mouth-to-mouth anymore. This hands-only CPR technique is something that anybody can do,” Chief Molina said. Current research by the American Heart Association (AHA) show that hands-only CPR has been shown to be as effective as conventional CPR in the first minutes of cardiac arrest.

Chief Molina is also looking forward to the implementation of Vancouver Fire Department’s (VFD) Project Home Safe, a project with Washington State University aimed at preventing fires in high danger areas such as the Vancouver Heights. Fire Marshal Heidi Scarpelli is working with the university to identify causes of fires in the areas of most common home fires—and to educate residents to help change the fire trend patterns.

Project Home Safe will study the high fire area and begin to conduct home safety inspections to educate neighborhood homeowners about the three main causes of fire: candles, unattended cooking fires and smoking.

“We are actually going to try and prevent ignition,” Chief Molina says with enthusiasm. “While changing people’s behavior will not happen overnight, ultimately, the goal is “how do we change people’s behavior so they don’t have a fire.”

In the end, the goal of both educating the public about CPR and that home fire safety is really about being safe, a major aim of both the City of Vancouver and its fire department. “This is a big step for us,” Chief Molina underscores. “To be focused on preventing fires, and not just putting out fires.”

Chief Molina believes people over age 50 are especially well-suited to assist the department in expanding CPR training and fire safety in Clark County. “These folks are the most active in neighborhood associations, care about the community and hopefully see this as something that benefits them as an older group, demographic wise,” suggests Chief Molina. “So, hopefully, they will learn hands-on CPR and get out in the community and make a difference.”

Chief Molina was appointed Fire Chief in February 2011. “For firefighters, it’s who we are not just what we do. I was glad to find this career.,” Chief Molina said. “I remember how excited I was when I was first hired on as a firefighter,” Molina recalled. “It was like a dream come true.”