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Dispatch change cuts Ky. city FD’s medical call volume by over half

The Owensboro city-county 911 facility now transfers some medical calls to an AMR dispatch center


City Fire Chief James Howard told city commissioners that having firefighters respond to most medical runs was stressful to personnel, affected hiring and caused wear on fire vehicles.

Photo/Owensboro Fire Department

By James Mayse

OWENSBORO, Ky. — A new dispatch policy initiated last month reduced the number of medical runs made by city firefighters by more than half, compared to November 2021.

City Fire Chief James Howard told city commissioners Tuesday the change reduces the number of medical runs firefighters make when OFD assistance isn’t needed.

Howard said having firefighters respond to most medical runs was stressful to personnel, affected hiring and caused wear on fire vehicles.

Howard discussed the policy, which went into effect Oct. 31, at Tuesday’s city work session. Howard said the number of medical runs made by firefighters has increased steadily since 2010. In 2021, it increased by 11% over the previous year.

“Group after group in the fire department noted the rising call volume, especially EMS (emergency medical services), turned out not to be emergency calls when they got to the scene,” Howard said.

Over the past 10 years, medical runs made by OFD increased by 52%, Howard said.

OFD is “making more runs that we ever have before, and it’s causing internal issues within the fire department,” Howard said.

City-county 911 dispatched OFD on medical runs before the new policy went into effect. Often, city fire units were being sent out on a medical run, but then were called off while they are still on their way to the scene, Howard said.

“It’s not uncommon to go out multiple times a night, and for the majority of the calls on the EMS side, their skill set just isn’t applicable based on the circumstances at the scene,” he said.

Howard said sending firefighters out several times a shift on medical runs was wearing down crews, which can affect their response when they are needed at a medical emergency or fire.

The volume of OFD medical calls also affects recruitment and retention of firefighters, Howard said, and the department competes for employees with other agencies that make fewer medical runs.

“It’s not that the people out there wanting these jobs don’t want to make runs, they want to make emergency runs and make a difference,” Howard said.

The new dispatch policy calls for the 911 dispatch center to send OFD automatically to certain calls, such as on vehicle accidents with injuries, cardiac arrests, shootings and stabbings, drownings and bridge jumpers, and suicides where the victim has significant bleeding.

Any other medical call is transferred from the dispatch center to American Medical Response’s dispatch center.

Paul Nave, head of the city-county 911 dispatch center, said AMR dispatchers will first determine if they will send an ambulance, and then will use " Emergency Medical Dispatch,” a series of questions to determine if the fire department is also needed.

Nave, who was not at Tuesday’s meeting, said Tuesday afternoon that if AMR wants city fire units to respond, “they’ll call us back, and we’ll notify the fire department.”

The policy “has reduced their call volume by a significant amount,” Nave said.

Howard told commissioners OFD made 827 medical runs in November of 2021. Last month, under the new policy, city firefighters responded to 401 medical runs.

“It’s a drop off even beyond what we expected the drop off to be,” he said.

Howard said he has already heard from firefighters who feel the new system means they are being sent to calls where they are making a difference.

The city’s system is different from the county’s, where Daviess County Fire responds to every medical emergency, Nave said. When asked if the new system could cause delays in response, Nave said “inside the city, there is that potential of delay (while) vetting the call.”

Nave said of the policy, “I’m fulfilling the requests of the fire department, and this is the protocol they wanted.”

—In other business, commissioners approved a municipal order in support of Owensboro being proclaimed the " Bluegrass Music Capital of the World.”


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