Wash. fire dept. considers mobile health response program

Seattle officials proposed a pilot program that would help responders deal with non-emergency calls and decrease response times

SEATTLE — A pilot program is being considered to help the fire department deal with non-emergency calls.

KIRO7 reported that a Seattle Fire Department mobile health response team was proposed by city council member Sally Bagshaw as a way to respond to calls dealing with chronic illness, mental illness and substance abuse, while keeping units free for emergencies.

Under the proposed program, a team of two EMTs and a behavioral health social worker would be dispatched to the low-acuity calls instead of sending an entire firefighter crew in two fire trucks.

The patient would get help with scheduling an appointment for medical care, or be taken to a clinic or detox center, depending on their needs. A caseworker would also follow up with them after the call.

“Every time that a unit goes out for a low-acuity alarm, that unit is out of service and they can't respond to a fire, a car accident, a cardiac arrest, etcetera,” SFD Low-Acuity Alarm Program Manager Jon Ehrenfeld said. “So it’s a really big concern.”

According to records, low-acuity incidents made up 40 percent of the department’s medical calls in the last half of 2017.

Bagshaw said the program would “save a ton of money and be a much more humane response.”

“Rather than just sending out the fire truck and sending someone to [the hospital], which is a $2,000 a night deal and then send them back out on the street without a plan,” she said, “when somebody calls 911, whether it's the individual needing help or not, there will be somebody there that can do a triage.”


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