They put out fires of all kinds
Supporting an older relative can be challenging, particularly from a distance. Cindy Carr has experienced that struggle firsthand.
Carr’s uncle, who is 77 and lives in Colonial Landing in Elkridge, fell four times last year. Each time, he had to call 911 for help. “He’s got lots of health issues, and I live out of state,” Carr explained.
Last August, she was surprised to receive a phone call from the Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue Services with an offer to provide long-term help.
The department’s new Mobile Integrative Community Health program matches frequent 911 callers with county services that address their problems, helping them avoid experiencing repeated emergencies.
“They put us in contact with absolutely wonderful people from the Department of Aging,” Carr said. They provided needed medical equipment, sent a physical therapist to his house three days a week, and set up a weekly check-in with a nurse — which doubled as a welcome “social visit” during the pandemic.
“He hasn’t fallen since we started this program,” Carr said. “Working with the Fire Department has been such a blessing.”
The county has 13 fire stations, and many firefighters have been with the Department of Fire and Rescue Services for decades.
In fact, its new chief, William Anuszewski, has three decades of experience in the county. “As a lifelong resident of Howard County, it’s both a privilege and honor to have served this community as a firefighter and now chief of our renowned combination fire department,” Anuszewski said in a statement.
The word “rescue” is in the name because all department employees in Howard County are also EMTs and paramedics. That means when they respond to a call, they bring years of experience with not only firefighting but health emergencies.
Master firefighter Wayne Sutphin, 55, started as a volunteer in the fire department 40 years ago. He has responded to emergencies of every kind, from fires to falls to tragedies.
“I’ve seen a lot of things I wish I didn’t see — and a lot of things I was glad to see,” Sutphin said.
Sutphin grew up “seeing the fire trucks and watching it on TV, naturally, as a young child,” he said, and then started volunteering as a teen. He soon realized he had discovered his lifelong career.
“Everyone in life has a niche. Once you find it, you want to do the best job you can,” he said.
Part of that job for him is teaching the younger generation. Sutphin has become a mentor to the newer firefighters, he said.
“You develop this father role. You continue to pass along information. Others have done it for me; it’s our responsibility to pass on all our life lessons,” Sutphin said. “I work with a great team. We’re very close.”
He knows firsthand what it feels like to lose all your belongings to a fire: He and his brother suffered a house fire when they were in their 20s.
So, this past December, when Sutphin and his team responded to a devastating house fire, he knew the family needed a kind word.
“They’re standing there, watching everything be destroyed by fire, water and smoke,” Sutphin recalled. So, he plucked their American flag from the encroaching flames and presented it to the family.
“I wanted to give them something tangible so they could at least have that,” Sutphin explained.
A grateful community
Like Sutphin, Lieutenant Gregory Frank began volunteering as a firefighter when he was 16 years old — 35 years ago. Like Chief Anuszewski, Frank grew up in Howard County. He followed his father to work when he volunteered at the West Friendship station.
“I’m fortunate to work in the same county I grew up in,” Frank said. “The community here is very generous. They always try to drop something off or send a handwritten card. At the grocery store, they’ll say, ‘Hey, thanks, guys.’
“I love the job anyway, and then to hear that just makes it even better.”
New role: preventing emergencies
Frank and Sutphin have saved many people’s lives responding to fires and other emergencies. Now, a new county program can help even more people by preventing emergencies in the first place — particularly for older adults.
As people age, they are twice as likely to be injured in fires compared to the general population. They’re also more likely to fall inside the home; in fact, falls are the leading cause of death in Howard County for people over 65.
That’s why the fire department and the Howard County Department of Aging soft-launched the Mobile Integrative Community Health (MICH) program last September with funding from the Horizon Foundation.
This year it expanded its services to include mobile vaccination clinics. “Our mission is to try to help out people who need help,” said Christina Castro, MICH coordinator.
Most of the program’s clients are 65 and older, Castro said.
“We find that a lot of our clients in that age demographic didn’t have the same technology we did growing up, [so] trying to navigate the current health system is incredibly difficult for them.”
How the program works
The MICH program assembles a team to connect residents with other agencies. It informs residents how to apply for services like home healthcare. Staffers do the work for the resident, contacting “a pool of agencies that come together and offer help,” Castro explained.
After a resident qualifies for the program, a community paramedic does a home visit to assess their situation and determine exactly what the resident needs. In the process, they check smoke alarms and other safety features in the house.
“When we get out there, often we find that it’s much more complicated,” Castro said. “We identify the problems we see and connect them with the programs that will help them.”
Castro said that many residents were able to get flu shots in their homes this year, thanks to the program. In addition, in February, the mobile team began delivering coronavirus vaccines to homebound people.
The program turned out to be just what Carr’s uncle needed. “Because of COVID, having these people come to his house has really made a difference in his mental state,” Carr said. “It’s been fabulous.”
To find out more about the Mobile Integrative Community Health program or to see if you or a family member qualify, call (410) 313-2016 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.