Fire Department Connects Residents to Health Care and Human Services

FDCARES resolves individual issues and reduces residents' need for
emergency services.

Hank suffered a stroke nearly 40 years ago and has lived with side effects from that stroke ever since. He moved into an independent senior housing apartment complex in Kent, Washington. Due to balance issues and declining strength and mobility that were not being properly addressed, Hank frequently required the assistance of 911 crews. He was fortunate not to have any serious, long term injuries. After FDCARES staff completed a home visit to identify issues that caused Hank's frequent requests for 911 services, an assistance plan was developed, he learned how to access services in the community, and his need for non-emergency services was reduced significantly.

FDCARES (Fire Department Community Assistance, Referral, and Education Services) is a fire department-based nonemergency resource, injury and illness prevention program offered as an additional fire department service to local residents. FDCARES was created because many of the medical calls that the Kent Fire Department Regional Fire Authority (RFA) responds to could be prevented or addressed utilizing other available and much more cost-effective community resources. The program has assisted many residents over the past 18 months.

The process begins when firefighters respond to 911 incidents, identify individuals who would benefit from non-emergency services, and refer residents to FDCARES staff. Staff contact and assist these individuals after their 911 response. This may be as simple as a phone conversation or as complex as multiple arranged meetings with various community partners. FDCARES staff work to resolve individual issues and reduce the resident’s need for emergency services in the future.

Today Hank lives a healthy,
more independent life in our community and no longer requires emergency assistance through the 911 system.

During the home visit with Hank, FDCARES staff discovered that while his apartment was equipped with safety devices, it was not equipped properly to accommodate his affected side. Also, Hank had not worked with a physical or occupational therapist for quite some time—his mobility had declined and his risk of injury and illness had increased. These services were not made available to Hank because he had not shared the frequency of his need for 911 services with his doctor.

This is not uncommon. Many residents, fearful of losing their independence, will not self-report these issues to their personal physicians. In reality, there are many resources available to residents who need additional support in order to maintain their independence. Reporting balance and mobility issues will increase your physician's ability to assess your personal needs, improve your health, and allow you to remain independent and maintain your lifestyle.

With Hank's permission, FDCARES was able to advocate on his behalf. After we talked with his doctor about our concerns, the doctor ordered physical and occupational therapy to increase Hank's strength and mobility. The apartment manager allowed installation of additional grab bars and equipment was placed properly to increase Hank's safety and independence. FDCARES was able to connect Hank to additional resources, including volunteer transportation and veteran benefits for which he was entitled but had not accessed in more than 12 years.

Today, Hank lives a healthy, more independent life in our community and no longer requires emergency assistance through the 911 system. Due to various therapies that he has received, Hank maintains his strength and endurance. He has completed an exercise program. Fellow gym members have commented that Hank looks 10 years younger!

There will always be a need for immediate emergency services for both fire and medical-related issues. Emergency issues can include things like heart attacks, strokes, and trauma-related injuries; however, many medical issues are far less serious. For the Kent Fire Department RFA, medical emergencies will represent over 70 percent of the approximately 16,000 responses that will be run in 2012.

 View a video about FDCares

For years, the 911 system has served as a central point of contact for residents who do not know where else to turn, and the fire service has addressed 911 calls with the same level of response and associated expense. As costs and the number of emergency responses increase, 911 has become less efficient. By differentiating between EMS and Non-Emergency Medical Services, FDCARES maximizes resources and saves the public money.

Other fire departments are testing new responses to various 911 requests for service. It is still too early to determine whether their methodologies are cost effective and efficient. Our approach is different—we work to prevent non-emergency incidents from occurring in the first place by addressing and correcting the underlying cause.

FDCARES works with residents to ensure they are aware of all the resources that are available to them. We advocate on their behalf to ensure that their needs are met in an effective, timely, cost efficient manner. This has led us to develop a wide range of partnerships with community health care and human services providers, including Aging and Disability Services. Our list of community resources continues to grow.

For more information about FDCARES, visit or call 253-856-CARE (2273).

—Mitch Snyder and Tami Kapule, Kent Fire Department RFA