Local News

Orange County's EMS seeking additional staffing to handle calls

Posted April 19, 2010

— Orange County 911 handles 1,200 police, fire and rescue calls a day. The county’s director of emergency medical services says staff shortages make it difficult to respond to an emergency in a timely matter.

“It's very serious. It has gotten to the point of being critical,” EMS Director Frank Montes de Oca said Monday.

Montes de Oca said it’s not just 911 operators who are under staffed, but that the county’s four full-time and one part-time ambulances are no longer enough to cover the 400 square miles they serve.

Montes de Oca told the Orange County Assembly of Governments in March that 220 times last year, someone called 911 for help but there was no ambulance to send. Firefighters had to respond to the calls until paramedics arrived.

“That is not their primary mission in life. Our primary mission is patient care, patient transport. So we really are impacting their ability to provide fire protection in their jurisdictions,” Montes de Oca said.

Montes de Oca said the ambulance shortage has also led to longer response times.

“The American Heart Association says that within about four to six minutes, if the heart stops, and the breathing stops, and the oxygenation to the brain ceases, than irreversible brain damage can occur,” he said.

But in the suburban and rural areas of Orange County, Montes de Oca says getting help to someone that quick is unrealistic.

“Our goal is to have it in 12 minutes. Right now, we're at 17 minutes. That’s not acceptable to us,” he added.

In the meantime, emergency medical services are prioritizing 911 calls because of crew and ambulance shortages. The most serious calls get answered first.

“We're holding our own now, but we want to make sure the public knows that we are addressing all those issues very aggressively,” Montes de Oca explained.

The EMS department is asking lawmakers to fund 29 new positions, and a full-time ambulance, at a cost of more than $1.5 million per year.


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  • OCVFF Apr 22, 2010

    Concerned in Oarneg has brought up some interesting information. Why were 3 paramedics switched to "staff officers" and why were their positions not filled in the EMS system? Sounds like deOca is pulling the wool over on the County! If 4 medics were pulled from IRV vehicles, then the number of available units has decreased, which would result in increased response times. It seems that perhaps the Commissioners do not have all of the information. As Paul Harvey used to say, "Now, for the rest of the story"..... Perhaps deOca needs to tell the rest of the story - correctly!

  • citizensoldier16 Apr 22, 2010

    What the article doesn't tell you is there used to be two volunteer EMS squads in the county. Montes de Oca ran one out of Hillsborough, but the South Orange Rescue Squad still remains in Carrboro. The article also won't tell you that Montes de Oca has ordered his EMS Supervisors to either a) Hold calls until a unit is available or b) call and ambulance from another county. So next time someone calls 911 and an ambulance "isn't available" there might just be a volunteer one right around the corner that Montes de Oca won't utilize.

  • Concerned In Orange Apr 21, 2010

    In 2009 3 paramedic positions were re-classed to staff officers and duties are warehouse, scheduling, training and answering the phone at the front desk as needed. Seven EMT positions were reclassified to paramedic positions. Have they been filled? Change the staff officers back to paramedics! None of their duties takes 3 people to work it 40 hours a week at salaries of $45,000 and higher! Tighten up what you have already on staff before you ask for more!
    Telecommunicators continue to be understaffed and overextended. None of the re-class done in 2009 addressed their staffing needs. Positions available at the time that could have been changed over - EMS Deputy Director position would have covered two but the director would not give it up earlier in the year. Someone needs to closely monitor how staffing is be used in this department! In regards to the delay it is based on moving from 5 IRV units and 4 ambulances to 4.5 ambulances and 1 IRV. Ask why and how this affects the time delay!

  • bombayrunner Apr 20, 2010

    Middle of a Saturday I called 911 on Falls of the Neuse for a car accident. Having been an EMT I stopped to help, the lady was critical. No one came for 45 min and still no ambulance. Called back 911 several times who said they were too busy to come. Yea right ... I know where they were ... the State Fair was going on!!! Eventually someone went to the little volunteer dept and they came. 911 Didn't even know it existed. So while the Ambulances were at the Fair showing off their rig's real things were happening. More services are needed all around as this place grows into a big city.

  • bmatt Apr 20, 2010

    @ chfdcpt -- thanks for the additional info -- but the story clearly means to have readers believe that 1200 calls per day are "police, fire, and rescue" calls and are of an emergency nature. Sure am glad I live in a very rural county, where we have a much larger area to cover, but have 8 volunteer squads who help the paid squads tremendously. Is there a reason Orange County does not have ANY volunteer squads? I thought Carrboro had one??

  • RonnieR Apr 20, 2010

    Wake has the Advanced Practice Paramedics in the Chargers. They may get to scene ahead of or behind the Ambulance and District Supervisors, because there are fewer of them and they cover the whole county, not just what Wake EMS covers.

  • OCVFF Apr 20, 2010

    chfdcpt, you are correct. The IRV system did win awards and was nationally recognized. Many agenices modeled their systems utilizing the Orange County concept. Such a shame that de Oca scrapped the system when he came here from Florida, because he personally did not like the system. Basically, he reduced the numner of EMS units available to answer calls. It would be interesting to know if the Commissioners are aware that IRV medics are no longer on the road..... nothing in the news about that!

  • SomeRandomGuy Apr 20, 2010

    IRV=Immediate response vehicle? Was that the Suburbans that used to be around the county? Kinda like Wake County is doing with the Dodge Chargers now?

    I am curious to know why there are 10 FDs but only one EMS agency in OC?

  • chfdcpt Apr 20, 2010

    OCVFF very true. The IRV system that the OC implemented a long time ago earned a lot of national awards and recognition for the delivery of pre-hospital care.

  • OCVFF Apr 20, 2010

    deOca reduced the number of available EMS units to respond to calls, not the number of staff, when he scrapped the IRV system. The Commissioners also have to take some responsibility in this dilemma, because they did not fund additional requested positions and ambulances in past years to keep up with growth in the County.