When an accident happens or someone is having a medical emergency, firefighters and medics try to reach them within four minutes after they get a call from the dispatch center.
Now, they can cut at least 30 seconds off the time it takes for them to get ready and head to the emergency.
While 30 seconds might not sound like a lot, firefighters will tell you that getting to someone that much sooner could prevent brain damage in someone who has had a stroke or get people to the hospital within an hour of sustaining a traumatic injury, meaning they have a better chance at recovery.
And in some cases, emergency workers could get to the scene as much as two or three minutes faster.
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The faster response times are due to a new dispatch notification system the county began using in the last month, which automatically notifies fire departments of an emergency while the dispatcher is still on the phone with a 911 caller, emergency 911 director Michael Watkins said. The system was installed in all 12 full-time fire stations in the past three weeks, Watkins said. The county approved spending about $266,000 to buy the system two years ago.
Since then, employees had to create more than 8,000 audio files of street names, businesses and cities for the notification system, said Ryan Rather, the emergency 911 center’s network administrator. Rather wrote down every name unique to Johnson County, spelled correctly and sounded out. That information was used to teach the new system the names of local businesses and streets that emergency workers could be sent to.
Now, when the system notifies fire departments of an emergency, they all hear the same automated voice telling them the location, eliminating any issues caused if a dispatcher spoke too quickly or not clearly enough, Watkins said.
Dispatchers also no longer have to put a 911 caller on hold to contact the fire departments, Watkins said. Now, the dispatcher enters the location of the emergency and what is going on into the system, which can identify what fire trucks or ambulances are needed in an emergency situation and alert the fire departments.
For example, if a resident calls in a house fire, typically three fire engines, a ladder firetruck and a paramedic are sent to the scene. The system also knows which fire trucks already have been called to another accident or emergency and are not available.
“We never have to stop talking to the caller. The system already automatically dispatches the run for them,” Watkins said.
In the past, dispatchers’ goal was to get all of the needed information from the 911 caller within 90 seconds. With the new system, they’re able to cut that down to 30 or 45 seconds since they don’t need to put the caller on hold, Watkins said.
Firefighters already have seen an improvement in how quickly they arrive at the scene of an accident or emergency, White River Township Fire Chief Jeremy Pell said.
For a fire, that can be extremely important.
“A fire doubles in size every 60 seconds,” Pell said. “So, 30 seconds really can make a difference in quality of life.”
But in medical emergencies, which are the most common calls for fire departments, that time can be even more critical.
“Thirty seconds may not sound like a long time, but when you’re in the middle of an emergency, it feels like a long time,” Pell said. “That could be the difference between having a serious long-term medical problem or something that a doctor can fix.”
For example, if a resident is having symptoms of a heart attack, getting medical help seconds or minutes sooner can save heart tissue. A specific medicine can be given to stroke victims, but only within six hours of first seeing the symptoms. Often, a person might experience stroke symptoms for hours but not call 911 right away, Pell said.
“Everything we do is about serving people,” Pell said. “Every second we can save that person, it’s a huge deal to that person.”
The White River Township Fire Department averages more than seven calls per day, and about 75 percent of those calls require an ambulance for a medical issue, Pell said.
About 85 percent of the Franklin Fire Department’s 3,000 annual runs are for medical issues, said firefighter and communications officer Andrew Tames. Franklin’s fire trucks and ambulances leave from separate stations, so in the past, the dispatch center would have to call both stations, Tames said. Now, both the medics and the firefighters get the call at the same time, he said.
“I’m noticing that everything is going out at the same time,” Tames said. “We definitely get to runs faster than we did before.”
At least 70 percent of Greenwood’s 6,000 calls per year are for medical emergencies, Fire Chief James Sipes said.
Pell and Sipes have been working to get the new system for about five years, Sipes said. The old system relied on the dispatcher to decide which equipment is best suited for each accident or emergency and then to call each station one-by-one to alert each of the incident. Now, they can get alerted and out of the station faster, he said.
“It really is going to be a game changer for us,” Sipes said. “Anytime someone is having a medical condition, especially heart-related or pulmonary-related, seconds are life-changing.”
Fire stations in Johnson County now have a faster way to respond to an accident or medical emergency with a new dispatching system. Here is how the new system works:
What is it? Locution computer-automated notification system
What does it do? Alerts the fire stations immediately while a dispatcher is still on the phone with the 911 caller. Once the dispatcher has the location and nature of an emergency, the computer system automatically knows what kind of truck or ambulance to send to the scene. For example, if a resident calls in a house fire, typically three fire engines, a ladder fire truck and a paramedic are called to the scene.
How much time does it save? On average, the computer system is saving about 30 seconds with each 911 call, meaning firefighters and paramedics can leave their stations seconds sooner.
How does it work? The computer system sends an alert to each station through the internet, leaving the radios free for fire stations to communicate about where an emergency is or if they need backup.