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Ambulance response times to increase

By Robert Flippo


EMSA, Emergency Medical Services Authority, which Piedmont relies on for ambulance service, has increased the allotted time for ambulances responding to emergencies. The change increases the response time from eight minutes and 59 seconds to ten minutes and 59 seconds.

This move came at the recommendation of an independent report conducted by the OU School of Community Medicine.

According to the study mortality rates are most affected by patient care starting within the first five minutes of the call, which is the responsibility of the first responders. Increasing the response time is meant to ensure the safety of ambulance drivers.

EMSA will be classifying calls into two categories: Priority 1 and Priority 2. Priority 1 calls are “critical situations, such as heart attacks, strokes, drownings and traumatic motor vehicle collisions” and Priority 2 calls are “nonlife-threatening situations such as, falls, broken limbs and minor injury motor vehicle collisions.”

For Priority 1 calls, ambulances will drive with their lights and sirens on.

For Priority 2 calls, ambulances will not run their lights and sirens and will be obeying normal traffic laws. This is also meant to increase ambulance safety by limiting the amount of time ambulances spend driving with lights and sirens on. The study showed 74 percent of all crashes involving ambulances occurred when the ambulance had its lights and sirens on.

These new changes will start November 1 and the big question is how will this effect Piedmont.

“We’re really concerned about it,” Andy Logan, Piedmont Fire Chief, said.

The ambulance response time for Piedmont is already long. The average response time is around 18, a full eten minutes longer than EMSA’s current target response time and eight minutes longer than the new target response time.

“It’s not EMSA’s fault, but that is not good enough,” Logan said.

Now, with the increased response times, Logan said he expects the average response time for Piedmont to increase to 20 minutes.
“That’s a long time when every second counts,” Logan said.

When someone calls 911, Piedmont Fire Department is also notified and it is their job as first responders to get to the scene as quickly as possible in order to apply the life-saving care that EMSA’s report stated as being so critical. After a 911 call, the Piedmont Fire Department is on the scene of the emergency at an average of three and a half minutes.

“We are there beginning treatment and stabilizing patients, whatever the need is,” Logan said.

Logan and City Manager Jim Crosby also expressed concern over the switch to Priority 1 and Priority 2 calls. Their worry is that, given Piedmont’s distance, the wait for nonlife-threatening calls could increase to as much as 30 or 40 minutes depending on traffic. Crosby pointed out the distinction between a Priority 1 call and a Priority 2 call is purely a judgmental one.

That judgment is made by professionals, 911 operators trained to make those kinds of judgments, but Crosby and Logan still worry that there is a margin of error.

Logan and Crosby are doubling their efforts to come up with a different solution to Piedmont’s current ambulance service.
“We were already not satisfied but this does make it a little more pressing,” Logan said.

Unfortunately, according to Crosby, Piedmont does not have a whole lot of options at this point. Currently they are looking into the possibility of switching service providers to a service with an ambulance closer to Piedmont. They are also looking into running the ambulance service out of the firehouse.

“We just have to find out if any of those are feasible,” Logan said.

The biggest obstacle standing in the way? Money.

“Unfortunately, to get an ambulance close to the city will cost more money,” Logan said.

Logan assured that the city and the fire department are working to make sure Piedmont has a quick and reliable ambulance service. He said he met with EMSA to try and address the city’s concerns and in the meantime he expects to be doing a lot of research and studying.

“We want to be proactive and not be reacting to something bad happening,” Logan said. “But we also don’t want to just jump into something and make a knee jerk reaction.”

The good news is that the fact that these EMSA changes do not come into effect until November 1 and until then the ambulances will run as usual. That will not be enough time to completely overall Piedmont’s ambulance service situation, but it should be enough time for the city to get a plan of action together.

“I hope to have something in the next 30 to 45 days to take to the council,” Crosby said.

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