Mercy Health Love County - News

Emergency Responders 'Hurry Up and Wait'

Posted on Thursday, October 15th, 2009

Paramedic Teresa Tow (back to camera) and other Love County medical, law enforcement, and fire responders share stories of delays in response time to 911 calls that can be overcome if voters will approve system improvements.
“Please hurry!” is often the urgent plea of callers to the 911 emergency dispatcher.
But responders say Love County’s outdated 911 answering system costs them valuable minutes in reaching the site of medical, fire, and law enforcement emergencies.
They told Monday of 30-minute delays in situations where seconds lost can mean lives and property lost.
“I’m very passionate about helping people,” said Marcella Kirk, secretary of both the Love County fire Association and Love County EMS Board. “All of us in emergency response care enough about our community to want to get help to every single person who needs it as quickly as we can.”
They want the county to supplement the 911 call answering with mapping and equipment that will automatically display the caller’s phone number, address, and map location when the call is answered by the emergency dispatcher.
Responders cited these delays associated with the current voice-only 911 system:
            Reliance on driving directions to rural locations –
”It might take five minutes for the caller to give directions to their home – ‘around the red barn, by the oak tree,’ and 10 more minutes for the dispatcher to explain them to us,” said Marietta Police Chief Linda Johnson. “The original time is doubled and you still have no one en route.”
Callers unable to give location or directions –
Love County EMSParamedic Teresa Tow, formerly a dispatcher in another department, told of a call from a seven-year-old visiting from another city whose grandmother was unconscious. “He didn’t know her address or phone number. He was just there for the weekend. Finally, he gave us her name and we found a record of a previous call to the home.”
Even adults, Tow said, make mistakes in giving directions when distracted by illness or trauma. 

Waste of resources –
Charles Campbell, chief of Criner Hills Volunteer Fire Department, told of being dispatched to a call “somewhere” on Oswald Road. “Oswald Road runs from Highway 77 to Highway 76. We had to take our trucks and split up two ways. After 30 minutes of looking, we learned the wreck was on Midway Road north of Dillard,” Campbell said.
County Commissioners have set a December 8 public election for approval of 911 telephone fees to pay for the requested improvements. The rates are set by law at a maximum of 15% of base cost for landlines (about $2.50 per month) and a flat $.50 per month for cell phones.
911 telephone fees can be used for mapping, street name and house number addressing, computerized map-display equipment, and to help defray costs of 911 operations.
“Trucks burn fuel while they’re running around trying to find someone. This new system will help everybody work smarter, cheaper, better,” said Sam Barrick.
“Our dispatch is from the 1960’s not 2009. We’ve got to get into the digital age,” said Jesse Kirk, a member of the Shady Dale Volunteer Fire Department and a retired captain with the Irving, TX Fire Department.
Love County has never asked 911 fees before, although it could have done so as early as 1989.
Over the past 20 years, most Oklahoma counties have taken steps to implement the improved 911 system, including Carter County and Marshall County, which passed its election last month.
Lending urgency in recent years has been the growth in wireless communication. Cell phones offer up even less source information than landlines, yet, according to a recent news report, Oklahomans lead the nation in abandoning landlines in favor of cell phones.
Responders agreed it takes three times as long for the dispatchers to obtain needed information from cell phone callers, who are more likely to be unable to articulate where they are.
Citizens listening in on scanners often help guide responders to emergency scenes, said Sheriff Joe Russell.
Tow added that volunteer emergency medical responders also chime in. They are especially helpful at Falconhead in directing units through the maze of streets and roads there, she said.
Russell, Fire Chiefs Association President Thomas Hicks, Marietta Police Chief Linda Johnson, Hospital/EMS Administrator Richard Barker, and paramedics and firefighters from Falconhead, Leon, Shady Dale, Criner Hills, Orr, Jimtown, and Greenville volunteer departments were among the 23 participants who gathered Monday at the Hospital/EMS training center in support of improved 911.