10:10 PM PDT on Tuesday, August 16, 2011

BY DUANE W. GANG
STAFF WRITER
dgang@pe.com

Riverside County officials voiced support Tuesday for a more efficient way to dispatch 911 calls and get ambulances to medical emergencies more quickly.

“We want to engage and improve things,” said Supervisor Bob Buster, who is proposing a study of a dispatch overhaul.

From the moment a call comes in, an integrated system would allow medical personnel to immediately identify the type and location of an emergency.

The system has worked well elsewhere, including in the city of San Bernardino, and national studies have validated its use, Buster said.

“This is a system that saves lives,” he said.

More than 80 percent of 911 calls handled by the Riverside County Fire Department are for medical aid, according to Buster’s report to his board colleagues. Many of the calls are for non-life threatening incidents.

But currently, 911 calls are first received by a Sheriff’s Department dispatcher. Medical calls are routed to the fire department. Firefighters respond to the medical emergencies and transmit the calls via radio to American Medical Response, the county’s ambulance service provider.

Buster favors putting in place an integrated computer dispatch system that streamlines 911 calls and reduces delays when transmitting calls via radio to ambulance providers.

The system Buster supports would prioritize medical calls to more effectively dispatch the appropriate medical care. For instance, an ambulance needs to go immediately to a case of cardiac arrest. Calls for sprained ankles are different.

Similar systems are in use in the city of San Bernardino and elsewhere across the country.

“There is no question that the medical science behind it is very sound,” said Humberto Ochoa, medical director for the Riverside County Emergency Medical Services Agency.

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