Rotary funds enable purchase of Cyanokit
The paramedics of the Williston Fire Department have acquired a new tool to help save lives.
Thanks to the initiative of Captain Prescott Nadeau and Lieutenant Tony Simanskas the department is pioneering the availability of a medication to treat victims of smoke inhalation for field application in Vermont.
Cyanokit is the trademarked name of the kit which contains hydroxocobalamin, an antidote used in the treatment of cyanide poisoning caused by smoke inhalation during a structural fire. Delivered intravenously to victims, the medication binds with cyanide in the blood to form a substance that the body can safely excrete through urine.
To their knowledge, they are only the second fire department in the state to have acquired and been trained in its use.
It all began with a podcast that the two regularly listen to called GRABS, which features stories of victim rescues from around the country. A “grab” in firefighter lingo is the rescue of a person from a building fire.
They repeatedly heard stories of people being pulled from structural fires and being administered a Cyanokit to save their lives. This got them interested in learning more about the tool and how they might be able to adopt it for their department.
They learned the kits were expensive, costing as much as a couple of thousand dollars. However, they could get one for about $800 if purchased through the UVM Medical Center. Because it was not budgeted, they sought a way to help fund the purchase of an initial kit.
In August of last year Nadeau and Simanskas, at the invitation of Rotary member Sherry Pidgeon, spoke to the Williston-Richmond Rotary Club about the potential of adding a Cyanokit to the department’s resources.
For the most part, Nadeau explained to the group, “It’s not fire that kills people, it’s smoke.”
While the UVM Medical Center has three of these kits available, they do not have the ability to respond to a fire scene.
The timeliness of receiving the medication matters. If transport time of a fire victim to the ER is 15-20 or even 25 minutes, administering this drug in the field could be the difference between life or death.
Hearing the potential of the Cyanokit, Rotary members deliberated and decided to provide the necessary funding through a combination of individual donations and money from the club’s charitable fund.
“Almost 100% of the cost of the drug was covered by the Rotarians stemming from that presentation,” said Nadeau.
“We were impressed with the forward-thinking and enthusiastic firefighters who clearly explained the value in rescuing victims from smoke inhalation. The opportunity to test the usefulness of this technology at the scene of a fire was too good to not support, so we were happy to raise the money for a kit,” said Sally Stockwell Metro, Rotary Club president, herself a retired physician.
Administering the medication can only be done by trained paramedics. The WFD has had paramedics on staff for about five years. Today the department has five paramedics and three new staff members who will complete their paramedic training at Vermont Technical College in Williston in the next year.
Paramedics can do more medically than EMTs, so their addition to the team has expanded the department’s ability to treat patients in a pre-hospital setting, said Nadeau. “We call it ‘getting healed in the field.’”
With funds secured, the department purchased their kit and conducted training in its use in late November. Co-taught by UVMMC Emergency Department Physician Doug George and Critical Care Pharmacist Kristina Stemple, the training was attended by the department’s paramedics and paramedics-to-be and recorded for sharing with other agencies, such as Richmond Rescue, for whom Williston provides mutual aid.
“We wanted them to know the signs and symptoms to look out for in the event someone is pulled from a fire and we could administer this kit,” said Simanskas.
“There is an insurance policy here. Just having the kit on a rig provides safety to the firefighters as well as to the civilian population,” said Nadeau.
Other departments in the area are now talking about getting the kit, as well. The pair expect to present about the Cyanokit at an upcoming county fire chiefs meeting and George and Stemple of the UVM Medical Center have offered to join them.
“I’ve had multiple people from other departments say ‘Hey, how’d you go about doing this?’ Hopefully, in a short time we’ll see other agencies carrying this kit as well,” said Simanskas.