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Safety concerns prompt ambulance dispatch change

August 30, 2003|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Washington County emergency services officials hope to reduce the chance of accidents involving ambulances by using a new dispatch system that will allow crews to respond to minor calls without lights, sirens and excessive speed.

Director of Emergency Services Joe Kroboth said Friday the new system, known as "hot/cold dispatch," will be in place in the county on Oct. 1.

"It tremendously reduces the risk of us being involved in a traffic accident," Kroboth said.

Kroboth said he's read research that indicates ambulances responding to a scene are 15 times more likely to be involved in an accident than the average motorist.

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With the hot/cold system, dispatchers will ask a series of questions to determine whether the call is a hot or cold call, he said.

Calls determined to be "cold" mean the call is not an emergency and there are no life-threatening injuries, so ambulances should respond without using lights, sirens or excessive speed. Ambulances are to obey the speed limit, stop at all traffic lights and stop signs and move with the flow of traffic, Kroboth said.

A "hot" call would mean someone was in danger and crews should get to the scene as quickly as possible, warranting the use of speed, sirens and lights.

Kroboth said all ambulances dispatched now use lights and sirens, but they are required to stop at lights and stop signs.

The new system came about after the Washington County Commissioners expressed concerns about accidents involving ambulances, Kroboth said.

Kroboth said he did not know how many ambulance accidents occurred in Washington County, but he recalled one involving an ambulance from the Williamsport Ambulance Service in March.

Maryland State Police said an ambulance was on its way to a call when it collided with a car, sending the ambulance into a guardrail. The driver of the ambulance was cited for failing to stop at a red light, police said.

Kroboth said in addition to increasing safety, the new system will reduce insurance expenses. He said he hopes a hot/cold system, which is becoming an emergency services trend, is in place for fire crews by spring 2004.

Washington County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association President Jason Baer said he supports the hot/cold system.

"We're trying to make our responses as safe as possible," he said. "We can't do that and put somebody else's life in danger.

"Screaming through traffic just doesn't seem to be the right thing to do when it's nothing more serious than a stubbed toe."

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