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Denver firefighters prevented from administering IVs during emergencies, per city contract with Denver Health

“It just feels like our hands are tied behind our backs.”
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Posted at 9:30 PM, May 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-17 01:15:54-04

Kevin Apuron spent nearly three years as a Denver firefighter. He was trained to run into burning buildings, climb tall ladders and direct high-powered hoses.

But it was something he wasn’t allowed to do that helped contribute to his departure.

Per the City of Denver’s contract with Denver Health, Denver firefighters are currently prevented from providing advanced care during emergencies, including administering IVs to patients, something Apuron is qualified to do as a licensed paramedic.

“It’s very frustrating. It played a huge role in the reasoning why I don’t work for Denver Fire anymore,” Apuron told Denver7 Investigates, which has spent the past year looking into the practices of Denver Health’s paramedic division. “It just feels like our hands are tied behind our backs.”

Internal emails obtained by Denver7 Investigates show that Apuron is not the only one frustrated by Denver Fire’s inability to provide certain care during emergency calls.

The emails also show that the department was in talks with Denver Health to allow firefighters to administer IVs if Denver Health was not yet on scene. Those discussions, however, stalled in 2019.

One of the emails includes a data study by Denver Fire that showed more than 35,000 emergency calls in 2018 where firefighters could have helped by administering IVs. Denver Fire Capt. Jeff Linville commented in an email that “the data … proves that in the best interest of (Denver) IVs with an updated protocol is the right thing to do.”

A later email from Linville shows frustration in delaying the topic as he notes: “We have continually pushed this topic over the last several months with no direction or decision.”

Apuron said it was never explained to firefighters why those conversations stopped.

“The people of Denver are not getting the services they think they are getting,” Apuron said.

Denver Health declined multiple interview requests for this story, but provided a statement saying that there were discussions about extending the scope of basic life support care for emergency medical technicians in 2019, and that the discussions were not concluded at that time.

“We are currently engaged in discussions with Denver Fire Department and Department of Public Safety so we can ensure we are working together to best serve the people of Denver with the high-quality care they deserve,” the statement read.

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Also, in a March study session with Denver City Council, Denver Health Medical Director Dr. Kevin McVaney told council that Denver Fire does not administer IVs. He also said that IVs “rarely save lives.”

Apuron disagrees and said that he’s seen IVs help save a life multiple times and believes firefighters could help make a difference “every shift of every day.”

Denver Fire Chief Desmond Fulton told Denver7 Investigates that he does not believe there is a logical reason that his firefighters are not allowed to administer IVs.

As for the city’s contract with Denver Health, which prevents firefighters who are licensed paramedics from providing advanced life support, Fulton said he feels his firefighters are handcuffed. Currently, there are 70 Denver firefighters who are licensed paramedics and are unable to use their advanced life-support skills.

The City of Denver confirmed that "pursuant to the terms of the current Operating Agreement with Denver Health, and the medical direction of Dr. Kevin McVaney, trained members of the Denver Fire Department are not allowed to administer IV treatments as part of their emergency medical response."

“There are some things that we are not able to do, I feel, that would benefit patients we serve,” Fulton said, adding that he’d like this policy to change as soon as possible.

Apuron said he wonders why this policy didn’t change years ago and stressed the importance of the public’s knowledge of the situation.

“There’s a reason why I’m sitting here and I’m not blacked out and I’m not wearing a ball cap, because this is something that I believe in and I think it’s something I think the citizens of Denver need to know,” Apuron said.