Originally created 10/07/04

Policy limits firefighters' roles



Emergency officials said Tuesday that they have agreed on a proposal defining which emergencies warrant medical help from city firefighters.

The new policy was prompted by a Sept. 21 directive from the Augusta Commission's public safety committee, which asked officials with the Augusta 911 Center, Augusta-Richmond County Fire Department and Rural/Metro Ambulance to draw up a clear policy in dispatching fire first-response units - firefighters trained as paramedics or emergency medical technicians - to medical emergencies.

Augusta 911 Center Director Phil Wasson recommended that first-response units be dispatched with ambulances to emergency calls when death is imminent.

In some cases, first-response units will not be sent if the engine company and ambulance unit are coming from the same station, Mr. Wasson said. If the ambulance requests help, however, the first-response unit will be dispatched.

First-response units also will be sent to medical situations that involve fire where dispatchers determine that urgent evaluation is needed and to emergencies where distance is a factor in the patient receiving prompt medical attention.

Firefighters can be dispatched if the operator or 911 supervisor deems it in the best interest of the patient, Mr. Wasson said.

The proposal is in response to a request by the public safety committee to determine why it took a Rural/Metro ambulance 16 minutes and 1 second to reach Augusta Commissioner Bobby Hankerson's Glenn Hills Drive home Sept. 5.

Mr. Hankerson called 911 at about 3 a.m. because he thought his wife was having a heart attack.

After waiting 13 minutes for an ambulance, Mr. Hankerson took his wife to the hospital.

The problem that night arose from the "posting plan," a strategy dictating where ambulances should be stationed when certain areas are left unmanned because of emergencies, said Vanetta King, the operations manager of Rural/Metro Ambulance.

"Med 16 was a little too far out to respond within the specific time limit to come to the Hankerson residence," Ms. King said.

It also took the ambulance crew 2 minutes from the time they were dispatched to the time they reported that they were on their way.

The time limit is 90 seconds, Ms. King said.

"Appropriate corrective action was taken," Ms. King said.

Reach Kate Lewis at (706) 823-3215 or kate.lewis@augustachronicle.com.