CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — Franklin County has implemented a new ambulance-response system to improve safety for emergency crews and the general public by using lights and sirens only when necessary, officials said Wednesday.
The Franklin County Department of Emergency Services, in conjunction with the Franklin County EMS Chief’s Association, put a priority-dispatching system in place on May 1, according to David Donohue, Franklin County emergency management coordinator.
The system uses a question-type format to determine the severity of the patient’s condition, provide the caller with instructions to begin patient care and determine response criteria.
Prior to May, ambulances traveled to every call using lights and sirens, according to Donohue.
Through a series of questions, the priority-dispatching system helps determine whether an incident is a time-sensitive emergency that requires ambulance lights and sirens, or a noncritical emergency that does not, Donohue said.
He said the questions are basically the same type as the public is currently being asked, so residents shouldn’t notice any changes.
“The one minute or so difference in response is not going to have an impact in the patient’s outcome. But, it will make it safer for the ambulance crew and the public at large.”
In Franklin County, an ambulance is involved in a crash four times each year, resulting in at least one injury per year, Donohue said.
Every day, 11 ambulances are involved in crashes in the United States, resulting in four injuries to either the ambulance crew or the occupants of the vehicle involved, according to a news release sent by Franklin County Emergency Management.
Most of the crashes occur when the ambulance is operating with lights and sirens, and Donohue said national statistics show that only 3 percent to 5 percent of the calls are time sensitive, or critical calls requiring lights and sirens.
The average time for an ambulance to arrive at a noncritical, medical incident will increase by only a minute or two, while the odds of a crash involving an ambulance will be reduced by about 25 percent, Donohue said.
The dispatching system has been used in other parts of the United States for more than 20 years.
Donohue said Franklin County is taking the system one step further by implementing a quality assurance component.
He said the county is one of the few areas where research is ongoing in an effort to improve the accuracy of the system and offer better safety for the community.
“The EMS community will be working with the Department of Emergency Services and local hospitals on a multiphase quality assurance program that tracks the accuracy of patient dispatch, care and treatment from the start of the 911 call through the emergency room,” said Doug Bitner, assistant EMS chief for West Shore ambulance, which serves northern Franklin County.
Crews have been tracking results, and Donohue said the first report will be released in September.
William “Bill” Little of Greencastle’s Rescue Hose Co. said he’s in favor of the effort.
“We’re able to make a focal point of comparison to see not only how effective the system is, but how effective we are at being a 911 center and how effective we are at gathering information from callers,” said Little, secretary of the Emergency Health Services Federation, the Regional EMS Council for eight counties in southcentral Pennsylvania, including Franklin and Adams.
“There’s a lot to this. To me that is the most beneficial aspect of all this,” Little said Wednesday night.