By BEN WEATHERS
The Capital of Annapolis
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — For more than 30 years Dr. Roy Myers has worked to ensure that Anne Arundel County firefighters are well equipped to provide medical care when they arrive on the scene of an auto accident or at a home where someone has just had a heart attack.
And while officials in surrounding jurisdictions could have made millions of dollars by doing that work for so long, Myers, the fire department’s medical director, has made nothing.
“I feel like it’s a service I can give. It’s not taking money out of my pocket,” said Myers, a retired surgeon at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore. “Every day’s a Sunday for retirees.”
Myers, 73, is responsible not only for overseeing emergency medical technician training, but for assessing firefighters’ performance in the field and implementing new techniques and equipment.
In neighboring Baltimore County, the job he does here comes with an annual salary between $70,600 and $97,500. Prince George’s County’s medical director has an annual salary of $100,000; in Howard County, it’s $145,900.
Myers has no plans to stop, and the fire department budget does not include funds for a medical director in fiscal 2013. If Myers were forced to stop working or had to leave for any reason, money to fill the position would have to come from contingency funds, Fire Chief John Robert Ray said.
County firefighters respond to about 80,000 calls a year. Of those, 80 percent are emergency medical calls, Ray said.
There are more than 700 career firefighters and 500 volunteers in the county, and they all must receive at least 164 hours of emergency medical technician training, not including re-certification training, Ray said.
Becoming a paramedic, the highest level of EMT, requires completion of a two-year program at Anne Arundel Community College — a program Myers, along with then Fire Chief Roger Simonds, was instrumental in creating in the early 1980s, and for which he also serves as medical director. There are only about 200 paramedics in the county, Ray said.
“We are an emergency medical service that occasionally will fight fires,” said Craig Oldershaw, president of the union that represents the bulk of the county’s firefighters.
Ray commended Myers for his service to the county.
“Despite the fact that he’s a volunteer and not being paid, he takes it very seriously,” Ray said. “He’s provided a lot of valuable service to the department and to the citizens (of the county) for over 30 years.”
Myers estimates he works two or three days a week at the fire department. Ray clocks Myers at between 20 and 30 hours a week.
Myers joked that his wife of 50 years, Gillian, “believes that I’m married to the fire department and not her.”
Gillian, also a physician, is a former employee of the state and Prince George’s County health departments.
The couple has two daughters, both in their 40s.
Myers and his family came to America in the late 1970s after leaving Johannesburg, South Africa, to escape the violence of apartheid.
Myers has grim memories of operating on gunshot victims after police opened fire on protesters.
A few weeks later, a child in the couple’s neighborhood was attacked and killed. That was the last straw for the couple, whose daughters were young at the time, Myers said.
Gillian “gave me the ultimatum — she said `you can stay, but I’m leaving,’ he said.
He began working at Shock Trauma in Baltimore in 1977.
At that time, about a quarter of the patients taken to that treatment center were from Anne Arundel County, Myers said. That figure was about 21 percent in 2012, said hospital spokeswoman Cindy Rivers.
Though the county had ambulances, it lacked a formal emergency medical service program.
“In the early days EMS was a scoop-and-swoop program,” Myers said. “We got the patient, put them in the ambulance and got them to the hospital as fast as possible.”
Myers, along with Shock Trauma founder R Adams Cowley and then-county Fire Chief Roger Simonds, began work to allow first responders in the field to use the emergency medical techniques then used only at the hospital. The notion was just beginning to gain steam nationally, Myers said.
Evolution of EMS
Over the past 30 years, the duties and responsibilities of paramedics and firefighter EMTs have greatly increased.
Take drugs, for instance. As medical director, Myers is responsible for prescribing all the drugs used by paramedics in the county.
“When we started in the 1970s, there was maybe five drugs you could use — now, we have 20,” he said. “With that goes the knowledge of when you give the drug, what actually happens. … You have to know the complications (and) the implications.”
Recently, Myers was behind a push to change the county’s protocol for performing CPR. The standard had been 30 chest compressions and two breaths per minute. Myers lobbied state and county fire officials to perform 100 compressions a minute, not stopping for ventilation.
Ideally, two firefighters switch off performing compressions while a third keeps time, Myers explained.
Myers began his lobbying after researching the technique and learning that first responders in Seattle who were already using it had a much higher survival rate — 50 percent compared to between 5 and 8 percent in Maryland, he said.
The state will adopt the technique officially in July. Myers and county fire officials lobbied the state to let them start using the technique earlier, Myers said.
When he’s not working at the fire department or at his home in Crofton, Myers spends a few weeks each year in Thailand providing medical care at a mission hospital. He and his wife have been visiting there since the 1970s.
His youngest daughter, also a physician, now joins them, he said.
“In our blood is this voluntary compulsion,” Myers said.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)