By Kai Curry
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
“I couldn’t have been happier in joining such a supportive, family-oriented community, where also I can see there’s a difference, and where I can see what happens with my patients,” said Naira Montero.
“What I love about FD CARES is that we work with the whole population, underserved or not. Coming from a hospital, we were there to fix a problem and then they leave. We don’t get to see their lives. [At FD CARES,] I feel like we’re part of these families, these individuals, their lives,” said Jacqueline Ford.
Montero and Ford are two Filipina American women doing exactly what they were meant to be doing, in an organization that is changing the way healthcare, policing, and the fire department do their jobs.
At Puget Sound Regional Fire Authority, south of Seattle, FD CARES (Community Assistance, Referrals and Education Services program) has been around for almost a decade, and yet it still sounds new.
Division Chief Pat Pawlak explained it this way: “What happens, a lot of times, [people] don’t know where to turn, so they call 911, then go to the hospital, the hospital takes care of them, and sends them home.” Patient care doesn’t end there, and in fact, it doesn’t necessarily have to start there. FD CARES steps in to redirect residents that maybe don’t actually need an emergency hospital visit, and who might need just a little bit of education and follow up in order to help them help themselves the next time.
Three teams, or “rigs,” operate daily and cover a region of 120 square miles that incorporates Tukwila, Kent, Covington, Maple Valley, SeaTac, and Skyway. The teams receive referrals from Puget Sound Fire or the Kent Police Department when a patient’s concern sounds like something FD CARES could better intervene on. The team, which often consists of a nurse and a social worker, assists the patient with in-home care and questions, helps them and their family with resources, and sometimes provides medical equipment such as for fall prevention or other at-home medical safety. Another activity in FD CARES’s wheelhouse is acting as a liaison between fire, police, and the homeless or unhoused, such as during encampment removals.
“The whole idea is to connect those individuals with the services they need, the help they need, when it isn’t an emergency call. That also keeps our units in service for those calls that are emergencies: cardiac-related calls, fires, strokes, things like that,” said Pawlak.
Both Ford and Montero came to FD CARES through their husbands who work for Puget Sound Fire, and after an already solid career as nurses in the hospital system. Both cited the influence of their Filipinx American families and culture as inspiring them to help others.
“It’s an amazing transition to be here at FD CARES,” said Montero, who prior to coming onboard about a year ago, saw a patient only briefly before that person was discharged for a social worker or another community outlet to look after. Once she joined FD CARES, an entire network of which she was previously unfamiliar opened to her, which she leverages for her patients. “We’re here to help empower the patient, as well as the family members, or caregivers, to continue on their care. Maybe it’s just that they didn’t know there were those resources.” Depending on the need, an FD CARES team will educate the patient on what’s available, as well as provide short-term assistance. “We put that out up front.” Patients are told FD CARES is not a permanent solution.
Montero is a second generation Filipinx American whose parents are both in the medical field (“The apple didn’t fall far from the tree,” she joked). She graduated from the University of Washington and also serves in the U.S. Army Reserves. “Being Filipino, we’re just all about caring for others, taking care of people, we’re family-oriented,” she said. “A lot of why I’m in the field that I’m in is because of my parents.”
Growing up, Montero used to help her father out at his medical practice. She witnessed her father helping patients who didn’t have insurance, doing pro bono work, and oftentimes receiving food or an offer to clean the clinic as payment. “There are means to help,” Montero learned, and she applies this now with FD CARES.
Ford’s father is Native American and Italian and her mother, who has passed away, was Filipina. “Her legacy lives on. She was amazing. She would give the shirt off your back,” recalled Ford, who has been a nurse for a decade and with FD CARES for about two years. She especially appreciates the social work aspect of the business model, as social work has resonated with her for a long time.
She remembers the racism her mother would experience at the grocery store when Ford was only six or seven years old, which instilled in Ford very early that “this was wrong.” She remembers being the kind of family that would stop to give water to those who were unsheltered. “I think of the love they always gave everybody, regardless of your socioeconomic status, or of what you look like,” Ford said. “If I learned anything from my family, it’s just be kind.”
No doubt one of the most impactful and paradigm shifting areas where FD CARES helps is in relation to the homeless population. “The Kent Police Department has done such a great job with involving us with encampment clean up,” Montero shared. She and Ford have both found from their experience so far that adding an FD CARES team to the equation during an encounter with police can lessen tensions considerably.
“I know they’re more excited to see us than the police,” Ford corroborated. “Anytime they’re going out to an encampment, they always bring us along.” Ford personally has seen it where someone upset at being told they have to leave an encampment will become less heated once they see FD CARES is on site. It makes the situation not just “them versus the police.”
In addition to fall prevention such as for the elderly, and assistance to the homeless, FD CARES team members might respond to a domestic violence situation, or help someone who has diabetes. There are any number of reasons they might be called upon to help, and can help. It’s about building relationships with the community as a whole.
“I personally feel like we serve everybody,” said Ford, “and I think that’s a beautiful statement of our fire department and also our CARES team.”
If you have a question or would like to request CARES services, please call 253-856-4398 or email fireFDCARES@PugetSoundFire.org.
Kai can be reached at email@example.com.