First Responders are individuals with a targeted amount of medical training based within their respective community who can provide immediate assistance in the event of a medical emergency. In Wake County all fire departments, county and municipal, provide First Responder service and are an integral part of the EMS System.
First Responders use a minimum amount of equipment to perform an initial assessment and intervention and are trained to assist EMS paramedics. All First Responders take an initial 72-hour Medical Responder course covering basic life support skills. In addition, all First Responders must maintain 12 hours of medical continuing education per year to maintain their county certification, 15 hours to maintain a state Medical Responder credential, or 24 hours to maintain a state EMT credential. This continuing education is in addition to the constant training all firefighters perform. All First Responders are trained in CPR and use Automated External Defibrillators (AED) to deliver immediate lifesaving care to victims of cardiac arrest.
In 1980, Wake County EMS recognized the valuable resources available to augment its Emergency Medical Service in the City of Raleigh. The Raleigh Fire Department began providing "early access" medical service to the City of Raleigh at the basic EMT level. Wake County wanted to initiate "early access" medical service countywide via the existing fire service; however, due to the logistics involved in converting all county firefighters to EMTs, it appeared impossible. Furthermore, there was no statewide first responder certification available at that time. Wake County EMS began searching for a non-EMT program to implement. Since there was not a state certification for non-EMT early access medical providers, Wake County adopted the U.S. Department of Transportation First Responder Guidelines and began teaching it to the fire departments.
In 1982, the Wake County EMS First Responder Program officially began. The first department in the program was Fairview Fire Department in the spring of 1982. Soon thereafter, many other county fire departments recognized that the program was a needed service for their communities and began adopting the First Responder program in their departments.
To further enhance the quality of care in Wake County, in 1993 the EMT-Defibrillator program began in Raleigh. The Raleigh Fire Department initiated the program with the full support and guidance of Wake County EMS. The program has been a great success. Many patients have been successfully resuscitated from a cardiac arrest before the EMS vehicle has arrived.
Based on the success of the Raleigh Fire Department Program, Wake and Orange counties proposed a First Responder-Defibrillation Program in 1995. The Program received approval by the North Carolina Medical Board in 1996 as a local county option. Apex Fire Department was the first agency to provide this service. Hopkins Fire Department performed the first actual patient defibrillation.
After the origination of the Medical Responder (MR) credential by the NC Office of EMS, a program was created to grant MR credentials to those Wake County firefighters who had been providing the service within the community for so many years. This partnership involved Wake Technical Community College, Wake County EMS, and the Wake County Fire Commission (representing the interests of the fire services throughout the county). An abbreviated educational program to upgrade Wake County First Responders to MR was developed and approved by NCOEMS, allowing these dedicated individuals to obtain state credentials while recognizing the training and continuing education they had already completed. This program allowed dozens of county firefighters to be credentialed by the state as Medical Responders, giving them a portable credential and continuing the provision of the highest quality emergency medical assistance to the citizens of Wake County.