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Fire District 1 captain puts words into action

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By Eric Stevick
Herald Writer
  • Snohomish County Fire District 1 Capt. Shaughn Maxwell

    Snohomish County Fire District 1 Capt. Shaughn Maxwell

LYNNWOOD -- Shaughn Maxwell wasn't thinking about national recognition when he made the suggestion.
It just turned out that way.
The Snohomish County Fire District 1 captain was looking for ways to save more lives.
At the time, Maxwell was serving on a task force for helping stroke victims. The emphasis was the importance of quick treatment. In his line of work, there's a saying: "Time is brain." For every minute a stroke is left untreated, nearly 2 million neurons are destroyed.
At the same time, Maxwell was reading "The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right," a non-fiction work that made the New York Times bestseller list. It emphasized the importance of planning and preparation in critical situations.
It seemed to Maxwell that such a list could help his crew out in the field.
Without really expecting a reply, he emailed the book's author, Atul Gawande, a surgeon and associate professor at Harvard University. Gawande responded with enthusiasm. He has been in his corner with advice ever since.
Maxwell worked with the district's medical service director, Dr. Richard Campbell. They came up with checklists for different situations medics routinely encounter.
Today, Fire District 1 has roughly a dozen checklists for conditions such as heart attacks, strokes, asthma, trauma, seizures and heart failure. Each checklist includes reminders and priorities broken down by under categories of immediate action, key considerations and other considerations.
"The checklists assure our EMS experts consistently apply these key interventions -- every time for every patient," Maxwell said.
"It takes an expert to execute the checklist and our firefighters are incredible," he said. "If you don't have expert firefighters, the checklist is just a list on a piece of paper."
With the success of the checklists, Fire District 1 recently was one of three fire departments across the nation to be recognized by the Congressional Fire Services Institute and the MedicAlert Foundation. The other departments are in Maryland and Florida.
Maxwell said the checklists have drawn interest from fire departments across the country and beyond, including the medical director for the London Olympic Games.
Although they seem simple, the process of writing them can be daunting.
Each checklist goes through dozens of revisions to make it quick and concise for each scenario.
"It's amazing how such a simple thing can be so complicated," Maxwell said. "When I'm telling people about it, I like to quote Leonardo da Vinci. He said, 'Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.'"
Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446,
Story tags » Emergency Management

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