Transmitting critical patient data provided impetus for Kansas’ Franklin County EMS to join FirstNet®

April 22, 2021

by Christi Hilliker, Assistant Chief at Franklin County EMS

My role as EMS assistant chief is overseeing the daily operations of our service.  We communicate a lot with our hospitals and other first responders. And we have to make sure that equipment is up and functioning properly.

Franklin County EMS  first subscribed to FirstNet about 2-3 years ago. We were having issues with coverage with our previous provider. Coverage was very spotty. Transmitting things like 12-lead EKGs to the hospital for a faster STEMI notification was something of value to us. And we just were not able to do that.

We had service issues or coverage issues throughout the whole county, which is about 577 square miles. The further we got out of the city limits of Ottawa, the more difficulty we had with our coverage.

So, it was important to us to make sure our 12-lead EKGs actually got to a PCI center. While we could get on the radio and tell the Cath Lab we're coming with a STEMI, it's in the best interest of the patient to have a cardiologist with an actual printout of the 12-lead EKG.

So we had to have reliable coverage where we could send that via fax from our ambulance to make sure that it got to the cardiologist before we arrived with the patient.

Reality matters                                                                                                             

It changes or affects the outcome. With a STEMI, it's a time critical diagnosis. We definitely want to make sure that our patients are in the Cath Lab as soon as possible so that they can get their heart reperfused. The longer it takes to get an actual 12-lead so that they can look at the area of the blockage, is critical in these cases. And the more we can do up front to help that process, the better it is for the patient.

Currently, Franklin County EMS is using cell phone technology and Cradlepoints. We are a standalone ambulance service with about 32 employees. That includes EMTs, advanced EMTs and paramedics. And we have both full-time and part-time staff. There are some rural hospitals we transport patients to that still that want us to give report via cell phone. And we know with FirstNet, we will have the ability to do so even in a rural area.

We also know we have security in doing that. We use our Cradlepoints for everything – from helping to run our CAD system so we can talk directly with dispatch or other responders coming to the scene to transmitting our 12-lead EKGs to the hospitals.


I look forward to the trial with RapidDeploy, using FirstNet to increase interoperability between responders.

When we are able to collaborate with responders, we're able to get more information to more people. So in the instance of a vehicle accident, we can communicate with the police department. You may not know the exact location. So, the first responder who shows up can type in a note and everybody can see that from their CAD device and know exactly where we're going.

Also one of the features in RapidDeploy is mapping, which definitely provides some ease of getting to the scene. 

The differentiator

So, I keep talking a lot about 12-lead EKG. But for our agency that has been hugely instrumental in helping with our patients. Before, if our coverage was unreliable, and we were in a very rural part of the County, we had a delay in getting those 12-lead EKGs sent to the hospital.

Now with FirstNet, we're able to get coverage anywhere in the County. And we don't have to worry about not being able to send those. We know that our 12-leads are going to go through with no problem.

I believe FirstNet provides the best coverage in the industry and there should be no hesitation in subscribing to the service.

I started in the agency as an EMT. Since I have been in EMS, things have hanged drastically. The primary mode of communication when I first started was via cell phone. That was to get in contact with the hospitals and give them reports on our patient's conditions. Also, we rarely would see a 12-lead EKG.

We would monitor somebody's heart, but it was from either a 3- or a 4- lead. So we did not have the ability to look and see if somebody was truly having a heart attack.

A three-lead EKG gives us three looks at a patient's heart. A 12-lead EKG is the gold standard of diagnosing a heart attack or what we call a STEMI in the field. It gives us 12 different views of the patient's heart. With that capability, we have the ability to look at more areas of the heart than we would otherwise. 

Serving the public

When I first heard about FirstNet, I was very excited. You have or hear about mass casualty incidents or storms that come through. And everybody is trying to get through on their cell phone. With FirstNet, there is safety and reliability of knowing that's not going to happen to our first responders. We have priority.

Ultimately, FirstNet is a value to EMS because we know that we’ll have the coverage, the reliability we need. We're going to be able to communicate with one another.

If we have the ability to communicate with one another, it means we're better able to serve the public. We know we're going to be able to communicate with law enforcement and with fire departments and bring a better outcome for our citizens here in the county.

Christi Hilliker is the Assistant EMS Chief for Franklin County EMS. She started with the agency as an EMT, gained her paramedic license, then went on to become a battalion chief, division chief and most recently, assistant chief.