MILWAUKEE, Wis. — Armando Suarez Del Real just wants to help people, which is why he chose to be a Pediatric Emergency Care Coordinator (PECC) in his role as captain of the West Allis Fire Department.

The 39-year-old Milwaukee native has been a firefighter for over two decades and became the West Allis FD PECC almost eight months ago. When Suarez Del Real learned about the PECC program, he wasted no time getting the department enrolled.

“We reached out to Children’s Health Alliance for some training that we needed,” he said. “And when they asked us to consider having a PECC, we jumped at the opportunity and it opened a lot of doors for us.”

Armando Suarez Del Real (R) and colleague Adam Livingston (L)

PECCs help advocate for children by ensuring that pediatric sized equipment is available, that everyone at an EMS agency is familiar with protocols for caring for pediatric patients, and by promoting agency involvement in injury prevention activities. Suarez Del Real is just one of 101 PECCs in Wisconsin, and Children’s Health Alliance is working to identify a PECC at every EMS agency in the state.

Being specially trained to care for children during times of emergency is important because children present uniqueness both mentally, emotionally and physically when compared to caring for adults. Children are smaller, require different medication dosages and are still developing.

Even if the child is not injured in response to the 9-1-1 call, their presence and exposure to the emergency can be traumatizing and cause negative implications later in life. For this reason, and many more, Suarez Del Real became a PECC as a way to further achieve his goal of ensuring that every person is safe and protected, no matter what stage of life they are in.

“These traumatic events that children are exposed to play a vital role in the person they become,” he says. “If we focus on the children that are here during these events, just imagine the healthier future we can build.”

“That’s a pretty high-in-the-sky hope, but it is our responsibility to protect our citizens and we want to protect them from the beginning all the way to the end.”

Children and infants aren’t the primary reason for 9-1-1 calls, but their frequency of time spent in an ambulance is still high. In 2018, there were nearly 53,000 pediatric ambulance runs in Wisconsin alone. Roughly 28% of those calls were for children ages 0 to 4, and over 44% of the calls were for adolescent’s ages 15 to 19.

Lt. Adam Livingston

To make sure that children are properly taken care of during — and after — an emergency call, Suarez Del Real and colleague Adam Livingston, Mobile Integrated Healthcare provider for the West Allis FD, carry resources not only for the children, but for parents and guardians of children.

The two have pediatric comfort kits for children during the 9-1-1 response and resources such as medication dosage information, weight conversion charts, safe sleep information and more.

In the end, Suarez Del Real hopes to one day achieve his sky-high goal of building a healthier future for children by taking proactive measures while caring for them during times of emergency.

“When you become a firefighter, they ask why you want to be a firefighter and everybody automatically says that it’s because they want to help people,” Suarez Del Real said.

“Our team has taken that one step further, because we truly do want to help all people. We proactively try to reduce the risk for any of our populations we come in contact with, and one of those is our pediatric patients.”

“We don’t always have a ton of pediatric deaths or patients but when we do, we want to be as well versed as we can be and being a PECC helps with that.”