Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Duty to Serve - in 30 minutes or less

I've lost count of how many times I've been told by callers to 'send help fast' or 'been asked 'how long will it take before they arrive?'. When a reporting party (RP) asks me if a warden will do a particular action, I am honest. I don't know.

Unless I'm just been told by Warden Smith he's going to put a deer down, how do I know he will put that injured deer out of its misery? Maybe it's not as badly injured as the caller claimed it was. Then again, the animal could be worse.

I know folks aren't thinking when they call the police, fire, or ambulance service. What has surprised me a little is some of the interactions I've had with the wildlife callers. Most are calmer than 911, but the occasional reporting person is a little upset.

I guess you might be if you walked outside and confronted a bear face-to-face or just witnessed a beloved pet snatched out of your yard by a predator. Boaters needing rescue or jet skiers missing a friend can be just as concerned as any other call on 911.

Time has a different type of meaning in Public Safety, To those who work in the field: the law enforcement officers, firefighters, and emergency medical services personnel, time can really be of the essence. To Public Safety Telecommunicators, henceforth referred to as dispatchers, time is relevant. We take a call, we dispatch the call.

Many agencies have set time standards. Technically, from the moment  a person dials 911, the clock starts ticking. The call center doesn't have the call until it starts ringing and no one can obtain any data until that first ring. Obviously, the quicker the dispatcher determines what is going on and enters the information as a call for service, the faster the field units can be dispatched. Once units are dispatched, they have to advise enroute, on scene, and additional status updates as appropriate to the type of incident.

Depending on the department, and the policies & procedures, a call can be broadcast on a radio before any entry is made on a log, a card, or in to a computer-aided dispatch system. When a dispatcher tells a frightened caller, I'm sending help while I'm on the phone with you, they mean it.

There are regions within the country where the numbers are very important. Not every city or county fire departments run their own ambulances. In those areas, emergency medical services (EMS) are provided by private ambulance companies via contracts to counties for 911 services. As part of the contractual agreement, EMS field units must be dispatched, responding, on-scene, and transporting, etc. within certain time frames as agreed to by the region and the ambulance company. Fire ambulance may not have a contractual agreement, but there may be a County response times requirement. The reason many fire engines respond with ambulances, other than helping hands, is that the fire apparatus is closer. Firefighters can arrive on scene in less time and begin care of the patient. Even in areas where firefighters are only trained to first responder levels, the personnel can begin CPR if needed.

Getting from point 'A' to point 'B' in a certain amount of time is not a new concept. Dominoes Pizza used to advertise delivery of their food in thirty minutes or less with an incentive. The company discontinued the practice after a myriad of problems. Now, their drivers get the food as quickly as possibly without a time guarantee.

In dispatch, we should never promise a time frame for response. How can we beheld to a certain amount of time? When does that time start? From the time the call is answered? When the ambulance says enroute? What is reasonable to get on scene? Five minutes, ten? Time will vary from night to morning, from rush hour to mid-day, from a sunny day to a blizzard. What is the standard? SHould it be different for city verses suburban or rural?

A good rule of thumb is to tell the caller, they (police, fire, ems, etc.) will be there as soon as they can (or whatever your agency's policy says). I don't even tell a RP if that field unit is driving with or without lights & sirens. I'm not in that vehicle with the field personnel. How do I know which way they are driving? Even if I suggested a route, a train could have taken that particular moment to cross some tracks and delayed that officer. Such a situation did happen to me once, delaying an officer's response to a robbery call. There wasn't anything he could do about it (he did tell me and I had to send another).

We don't always know the changing street conditions (traffic, road, obstacles), and weather that might effect a unit's response. Even another accident happening right in front of them, or (heaven forbid) they, themselves, becoming involved in a collision, can increase response times. Once company I worked at started authorizing ambulances code 3 (lights/sirens) and asking which way they would approach from in an effort to crack down on near misses. The extra radio traffic didn't last long - we were just too busy with calls.

We should be focusing on having more citizens trained in basic first aid and CPR, especially parents and teachers. We should have one national standard for Public Safety Telecommunicators, and that should be MANDATORY in every state. It's time those of us who work behind the radio, who take calls, should expect to be certified, and be proud to do so. We are the FIRST first responders.

Stay safe out there!

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