Local News

Durham EMS Making Changes to Save Time & Lives

Posted May 26, 1997 12:00 a.m. EDT

— Durham ambulances are trying to use flashing lights and sirens less -- not more. EMS managers say they're worried about the lights and sirens causing traffic accidents on their way to helping people.

Investigative Reporter Stuart Watson found Durham wants dispatchers to ask the right questions up front to save time and lives.

Like the boy who cried wolf, Durham EMS managers find they use lights and sirens to rush to some emergencies that aren't emergencies.

Durham is training dispatchers to ask the right questions to send the right equipment. But it'll cost taxpayers more to make the system work.

In a real emergency we want an ambulance fast. But all too often Durham EMS is finding there's not a real emergency waiting for them. And an East Carolina University study seems to show lights and sirens may not be worth the risk.

Durham EMS Medical Director, Dr. Rich Serra, says "we'd rather be proactive and avoid a situation ever occurring and you know there might be a fatality that could have otherwise been avoided."

Using lights and sirens less. It seems to run counter to the whole thrust of emergency medicine: seconds count.

Chuck Johnson, Durham's Emergency Communications Director says every seconddoescount. "Seconds can turn into minutes if ambulances are involved in accidents."

To make sure they're responding to a real emergency, managers want dispatchers to spend more time on the phone asking carefully scripted questions.

Over the last two years, Durham has spent about 10,000 dollars training dispatchers on a system called Emergency Medical Priority Dispatch. But Durham has yet to put the system into practice, because it takes more dispatchers to field calls while others ask questions.

Durham's 911 center is asking for 12 more dispatchers to put the Emergency Dispatch system on line early next year.

Emergency Medical Priority Dispatch has other advantages. Dispatchers can coach callers on CPR. Right now, they can't. And managers hope to free up ambulances to get to real emergencies faster.

There's yet another very important advantage. With Emergency Medical Dispatch, dispatchers can send ambulances where they're needed most. Right now ambulances are first-come first- serve. They might be sent on a non-emergency while dispatchers call an ambulance from farther away to respond to a real emergency.