RALEIGH, N.C. — When you call 911, you expect help to come quickly, but even ambulances cannot get anywhere fast in snow and ice. On Wednesday during the Triangle's sudden snowfall, EMS leaders knew they had to save ambulances for the most serious patients.
"We realized early on if we didn't change something we were doing, we were going to run out of ambulances," said EMS Medical Director Dr. Brent Myers.
Wake County EMS came up with a plan and quick. Paramedics in 4-wheel-drive quick response vehicles typically respond to the worst calls. During the storm, emergency leaders decided they should reverse roles and respond to calls that were not life-threatening.
"You are talking about three or four hours before an ambulance could have gotten to this patient and I was there within 15 minutes," paramedic Garland Tant said.
Ryan Lewis is not typically in the 911 center, but for the idea to work, the paramedic helped assess whether patients needed an ambulance or a quick response vehicle.
"My role was to act as an air traffic controller figuring out who could go where and when," he said.
The vehicles with all their emergency equipment were used more than 20 times during the storm. In most cases, paramedics would treat the patients right at the scene. Only twice did they have to call an ambulance.
EMS leaders think the plan worked. Although ambulance response time was still slow in some cases, they always had one available.
The Wake EMS system is doing an internal review of every call. If they like what they see, they may implement the plan for every storm. However, four Wake County ambulances were involved in accidents trying to maneuver on the roads.