“For most people, the day they call 911 for a loved one, it’s probably one of the worst days of their lives.” — Tom Openlander, Fire Chief, Kirkwood Fire Department
You will hopefully never need to call 911, but if you do, and if you do so in Kirkwood, there are a few things we would like you to know. If your call is medical in nature, you will be asked a series of questions to help us determine exactly what you need. However, please know this: While your dispatcher is asking you questions, a second dispatcher is sending help.
In March 2012, the Kirkwood Fire Department added Emergency Medical Dispatching (EMD) to its services. All Kirkwood dispatchers have now been trained on the system. EMD is a system of evaluating and prioritizing medical 911 requests for assistance. While new to Kirkwood, EMS Dispatching has been around for 30 years (originally implemented in Salt Lake City) and is now considered the norm both nationally and internationally. It follows the “Standard of Care for Community Systems.”
Emergency medical dispatching starts with a series of questions from dispatchers, called “Structured Call Taking.” The same questions are asked of every caller. This allows for consistency and a thorough exploration of each question. For more information about this, please visit the City of Kirkwood’s Blog, All Aboard.
When 911 calls come in to the dispatcher(s) on duty, they open up automatically through a Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) screen (not to be confused with what architects use). The location and name of the caller pops up with the call. Once the dispatcher determines it’s a medical call, he/she opens the correct screen, with question prompts that take the dispatcher through the structured call-taking process. The dispatcher fills in the fields. A sample question may be: “Is the patient breathing?” That leads to the next question, along a specific “path” of questions.
The goal of EMD is to allow dispatchers to provide pre-arrival instructions to the caller, such as help with CPR, obstruction, or bleeding. This creates a “zero minute” response time because the dispatcher gives the caller meaningful standardized instructions, and the caller essentially becomes the first responder. While the majority of medical 911 calls are not life threatening, EMD provides immediate assistance to the caller, which can be beneficial if the ambulance is delayed for any reason. It improves the chances of survival for the patient.
EMD calls are graded on a scale. For example: What kind of resources are required? How many resources? What is the level of urgency? EMD is an automated system, meaning the next question doesn’t pop up until the current question has been answered. Also, there are concrete medical controls in place. The Kirkwood system and protocols are reviewed and approved by our medical director, who is a physician.
The protocol determines the response plan, which trucks go to the scene, and which equipment will be needed. Sometimes a fire truck is dispatched along with an ambulance, such as in the case of cardiac arrest. We are always refining the protocol.
Whenever someone calls 911 for a loved one, it is a high-anxiety situation. The callers often get frustrated because they do not understand why they are being asked questions. Please know, if you call 911, that our dispatchers will ask you questions. Please do not be upset by this. There is a reason for it. It may take 30 extra seconds, but it may also save the life of the individual patient for whom you are calling. Thank you.