Long response times push NC residents to demand their own EMS service
A resident and former firefighter said it takes almost 20 minutes for an ambulance to respond to an emergency in Harlowe, N.C.
By Bill Hand
HARLOWE, N.C. — If you have a heart attack in Harlowe, according to resident and former firefighter Rufus Carter, you are in serious trouble: it's going to take the ambulance an average of 18 minutes and 22 seconds to get there. If you live in nearby Adams Creek, the response time is even longer.
That's the longest average response time for EMS in the county by nine and a half minutes (in Fort Barnwell) and nearly 11 minutes longer than the county's quickest (Township 7).
While the Harlowe and Adams Creek community has its own fire department, it must rely on Havelock EMS for ambulance calls. Many in the community think its time for that change.
"EMS is needed here," Carter, one resident leading the push, said.
He said the county commissioners have been reluctant to raise the community's taxes to cover a local EMS base – "It would raise the taxes up from 1 to 5 cents," he believes – but he feels that wouldn't matter. "What's more important? A life, or raising the tax?
He said Harlowe is a small community of about 5,000, but doesn't believe that should be enough to keep it from having its own ambulance. "It can be done," he said. "Mill Creek is the smallest little area in Carteret County and they have EMS service. They're smaller than we are.
"I believe the community will come together and stand up for what is right. I don't think we'll have a problem getting EMS."
The slow response time involves the distance an ambulance must go from Havelock down NC 101 to reach the isolated community. "It doesn't take rocket science to know that it takes longer to get here than anywhere else," he said.
He does not blame Havelock for the time it takes to get medical help. "My mom, she lives down Pine Cliff, and she gets sick? They got to find out where she's at," he said as an example. "How the dispatch works, when you call 911, they have to get all the information in, they've got to lock it in and send the ambulance out.
He said response times can be slowed by road changes and house numbers that are missing on mailboxes or homes.
He added that the more outlying areas of the town, such as Adams Creek, add even more time.
Jesse Kearney, a firefighter in Harlowe who has long been advocating for an ambulance, also believes the difference in response time can be deadly for some residents.
"We have a lot of elderly living in the community, and 22 minutes to 30 minutes is a very long time for a patient to have to wait... Getting an EMS unit (stationed) in Harlowe means the world to me."
The men believe response time with a locally-stationed ambulance could be cut down to five minutes.
The list of calls and response times for Craven County EMS stations in 2017, as provided by Carter from county EMS records, was as follows:
- Bridgeton: 837 calls, 10:39 average response time;
- Havelock responses to Township 5 (Harlowe): 229 calls, 18:22 response time;
- City of Havelock: 1650 calls; 9:02 response time (these are 2018 figures);
- Cove City, 224 calls, 8:49 response time;
- Fort Barnwell, 197 calls, 9:18 response time;
- New Bern – Craven, 324 calls, 9:08 response time;
- Township 7, 1,104 calls, 7:29 response time;
- Vanceboro, 827 calls, 8:50 response time.
No records were available for CarolinaEast Medical EMS.
Carter said that he has heard only promises to investigate the feasibility of a Harlowe EMS from commissioners. To pressure the commissioners to further action, he added, a number of residents will attend the November 4th commissioners' meeting in New Bern. "We're not going in singles," he said. "We're going in numbers, because now's the time.
"I'm tired of hearing what we cannot have. It's time to hear what we can have."
Commissioners had not returned messages at the time of publication.
©2019 the Sun Journal (New Bern, N.C.)