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Fire chief: Don't be afraid to call 911 for help

Ambulance use is on the rise

Oct. 12, 2011

Anyone heading to a hospital emergency room should call 911 for a ride.

"Many people are hesitant to call 911 unless they think the situation is life or death," Deputy Fire Chief James Case said.

He appreciates that people don't want to abuse the service, but explained that emergency room visits are appropriate reasons to dial those three numbers.

What presents as a minor pain or illness could quickly become more severe, perhaps when someone is driving themselves to the ER. Ambulance crews are equipped and skilled to handle such situations, Case said.

In this economy, people are putting off calling ambulances because they are afraid of the charges or don't think the severity of their medical situation warrants it.

Not every call is going to end in a trip to the hospital, Case said. Fee adjustments now make it less costly for people with conditions like diabetes to call when they are having problems with their blood-sugar levels. What's needed to get them feeling better might be as simple as a shot of insulin, but it's best to leave that decision to paramedics.

"We want them to call us so we can help them," he said.

Fire chiefs have been reaching out to senior-living facilities, which often send residents to hospitals, to remind them about the ambulance services provided by the city.

The Fire Department's call volume has been increasing, but with a little marketing those numbers could even be higher, they said. In 2010, the department made about 2,900 ambulance transports. This year, it looks like that number will jump to 3,300 and 3,600 are anticipated for 2012.

"We believe the EMS call volume is not going to stop increasing," Chief Rob Ugaste said.

Talking to the paramedics who respond to the calls, the chiefs get some indication of what is behind the increased traffic.

Similar to fear of incurring ambulance fees for a less than life-threatening medical problem, people tend to be putting off doctor's visits until they're facing an emergency situation, Assistant Chief Scott Erke said.

In addition, the visiting population keeps increasing - people shop at Mayfair, patients are in town for medical treatments - and busy roads lead to traffic accidents.

Case doesn't discount the importance of private ambulance services. They transport hundreds of patients each day to area hospitals and medical clinics for non-emergency appointments such as chemotherapy, dialysis or x-rays.

"We couldn't handle all those transfers," he said.

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