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911 and the Boy Who Cried Wolf.

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We had the honor and privilege of conducting a phone interview on June 28th, with a Lead Paramedic out of South Carolina. Since he also happens to be an active Tactical SWAT paramedic, and one of the conditions of the interview was we maintain his anonymity.

For confidentiality sake, we will him “Bob”.

So Bob has been in the industry for just under 5 years, he spent his first three as a EMT, and the last two as a Paramedic. As we mentioned earlier, he’s also an active member of the county SWAT team, with the role as a SWAT Paramedic.

If you’re not familiar with the SWAT Paramedics or Tactical Medics, they are somewhat of a new addition to the Law Enforcement community. The role was created because of need that has become more and more apparent, active shooters. EMT’s or Paramedics are not allowed within the scene of the actual active shooter, so they won’t be injured. However, what this means, is the victims, won’t receive medical attention until after the scene has been secured.

The Tactical Paramedic has Law Enforcement training, they carry a badge and a firearm, and they have the right to arrest, just like any police officer. However, what makes them exceptional is their high level of medical training, typically they have to be a paramedic with multiple years of on the job experience. The County he works for thought it would be better to train select Paramedics to work side by side with tactical Law Enforcement Teams, then to cross train Police Officers as Paramedics.

So this allows them to provide a medical attention to victims much quicker than a traditional EMT, and this means they can save more lives.

Even as cool as his job is something else became apparent as we spoke.

EMT’s and Paramedics including Fire paramedics don’t get the recognition they deserve.

Bob said the running joke is “EMS is the red-headed step child of the public service force”.

He brought up some phenomenal points about the issues all Paramedics face on a daily rate, the biggest factor being the abuse of the 911 system itself.

Most people have the basic understanding that they should only call 911 if it is an emergency. However, people have grown lax with the entire system and have started calling for various other reasons. As an example, some people will call 911 because they believe if they get a ride from an ambulance, they will be seen in the ER faster. When the truth is, they will wait in line along with everyone else, unless it is a true emergency. Another example that came up during the interview is, some people will call 911 because they have had a cough for three days, and they will say they are having chest pains, which means there are certain things that the EMTS have to provide and it also makes them unavailable for an actual lifesaving call. Using something to be seen by a doctor faster is definitely abuse of the system and takes valuable time away from cases that are actual emergencies.

I asked Bob how many times a day they were called for someone that did not actually have a legitimate reason to call. The number is shockingly high. Out of the many calls he goes on each day with normal activity, he estimated 85% of these calls were not actual emergency situations. He said in a given day he runs 10-15 calls, and on average 8-10 of these calls could have been handled by a non-emergency service. He said people will literally meet the Ambulance at the curb with their bags packed, so $1500.00 for a taxi ride seems fair.

His station that he works at, as Lead Paramedic, goes out on 60,000 to 65,000 calls a year and on average 7,500 of those calls where actual situations that needed a highly trained emergency response team.

So his station has another interesting problem too, that also seems to be an issue within the industry not just in his location.

Of those 60,000-65,000 calls a year they provide medical attention for, only about half of those people can actually afford the bill. He said of those 50% only 35% actually pays their ambulance bill.

And we wonder why medical care cost so much in this country.

Another interesting issue was something I thought about and asked during the interview, if I was called out 10-15 times a day to provide a service and I knew that better than half the time my services wouldn’t really be needed and it was most likely a false call, I would lose focus and could possibly make a mistake in my duties.

I asked if the number of minor calls could have a negative impact on how a Paramedic responds to a situation. In short, the answer was yes. It can get to the point where they expect each call is going to be about something unimportant so they can become complacent when there is an actual emergency.

After a while, a Paramedic that has been in the field for a long time might even grow bitter. It can be extremely frustrating to get called out of bed in the middle of the night for someone hitting their funny bone or other equally miniscule reason. With so many people calling for non-urgent ailments, it is easy to become complacent.

This is a modern day rendition of the old Russian story about the boy who cried wolf.

How can this be remedied?

First and foremost, the quality of public education needs to be increased. People have forgotten what emergency situations actually are. If the job was brought back to its original purpose, Paramedics would be much quicker and the public would receive better care. It would also have a major impact on the cost of medical care.

We wanted to talk about something within the community that matters to our core customers, the First Responders. By the end of this interview we realized that this issue has a much wider audience than we originally believed, since 911 is used by everyone within the US, this issue affects us all.

So what can you do about this issue to make a difference, well for one thing you can share this blog post to help increase awareness on this issue. If this gets shared enough, hopefully the right people will pay attention and we can get some real attention on this subject. By no means are we the first to bring this issue up, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver had an excellent episode that focuses on 911, you can watch it here.

But the more awareness we create on this subject, the better chance we have a creating a solution, and hopefully we can help save more lives this way.

Remember to sign up for our newsletter, at the footer of this page,  so you can get a direct link to our next blog post. 

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Emergency Safety Supply provides EMS, Fire and Law Enforcement personnel and agencies, with the medical supplies and equipment they use, on a daily basis.

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