'WTAE Listens': Improving emergency response times (2023)

Good morning and welcome to W. T. ***. Listens. I'm Chandi chapman this morning. We're looking at the importance of response times we've seen in recent weeks that each second counts and can mean the difference between life and death, whether *** medical emergency fire or other emergency situations, *** story that gripped the nation. Buffalo Bill safety Damar Hamlin collapsed on the football field. Emergency personnel rushed to save the Mckees rocks native's life. One of the amazing things that did happen during those events was that DEMAR received almost immediate cpr right there on the field, which is absolutely critical. You talk about *** real leader, *** real hero and saving back here at home. Just days later, *** local high school basketball player suffers *** medical emergency of his own on the court. Me as *** mom. It's scary because you have no idea. You're hearing them say your child can't move, you know, asking for okay to call an ambulance. But because officials say they had *** staffing shortage, the emergency response took time. There were *** number of calls that had dropped prior to that time. So all of our crews were committed on other calls. We were probably short, at least two vehicles that we would normally have on the road. So that impacts the ability of the service to respond to calls for some communities in our region. Emergency services are being changed altogether. Oh my God, these people will be hurting if it closes, you know, something catches on fire. Even *** small brush fire cause problems. Those shortages and delayed responses are being felt everywhere. There is an urgent call for volunteers and *** need for help in nearly all aspects of emergency response. It's *** problem that may leave families asking the question will help be there when they need it most. I'm here with the Director of operations for medic rescue, Bill Pascual and the Swiss ville fire Chief Clyde Wilhelm, thanks so much for being here. First of all, thank you. Thank you for having us. Now. Both of you are so instrumental when it comes to saving people's lives. But there are challenges when it comes to being *** first responder. And those challenges can affect response times and in turn affect the community Bill. We recently talked about Beaver County, what happened to the teenager who had an injury during *** basketball game. He collapsed in and out of consciousness took more than 40 minutes for medics to arrive. How does that happen? Well, there's *** number of factors that play into the response of any call and one of that is just call volume at that particular moment in time. As an ambulance service. We can only schedule so many crews based on the people available to work. And if the call volume is greater than the number of crews that are available to run calls, then there is *** delay in getting *** call or *** crew to *** call. So on that particular evening, we ran into that situation. Um, the crews that were scheduled were all out on calls when that particular call dropped. Uh, so it was pushed back because we had nobody to respond. Um, there was no mutual aid available as well to take over for us because they were all busy. And so our next crew that came on for their evening shift was dispatched and then ultimately responded to that. And it's not just happening with ambulance services. We're also seeing this with fire departments. Tell us about the overall issues when it comes to staff shortages and how it affects response times. Well, as most people may or may not know about 90% of the fire service in Pennsylvania is provided by volunteer fire departments. Swiss feels *** little unique is where *** combination department meaning we have paid and volunteer staff and it's been that way since 1906. So our community has always been committed to that, that type of model, which gives us *** little better availability of people and we can mitigate situations much more quickly with *** quicker response. But in general, the emergency services in Pennsylvania and, and throughout the region, in other parts of the country, we're in crisis. Um, you know, there's less and less volunteers. The training requirements are just really, really high. Uh, it takes many, many hours. Almost 200 hours just to be *** basic firefighter to meet the basic, um, certification. But there's other things, we also do E. M. S. And in *** small community, if you can imagine were 1.2 square miles. And last year we ran over 1700 calls, about 500 fire related calls and 1200 GMS calls on the E. M. S. Side. Um The system is overtaxed because we have, we've transitioned from an emergency medical providing service statewide to *** pre hospital service where we are shuttling *** lot of people that are not emergent to hospitals which are tying up ambulances. And in cases like this, I've seen cases similar to the one bill was talking about where we've had to wait for mutual aid, um ambulances from, you know, as far away from Monroeville from Swiss village, about seven miles eight miles away, you know, four or five services out. Um because *** lot of the other ambulance were transporting non emergent patients because under the Pennsylvania protocols, once you make patient contact you can't, you have to ask them if they want to be transported and if they say yes, even if it's just *** stubbed toe, you have to transport them. So now you're tying up that emergency medical unit for 45 minutes an hour and it's out of service while it's transporting that patient. We did such *** good job in the eighties and nineties of telling everybody, call 911 if you have an emergency just call 911. But now they're calling 911 for everything. And it's really bogging down the system. You know, I've been involved on *** national level with the International Association of Fire Chiefs and there's *** lot of other areas where they will allow the paramedic to call *** doc and and have that as *** non emergent transport and give that person *** voucher for an Uber or *** taxi so that that ambulance stays free um, to handle the next emergency call. But pennsylvania, we have these rules that there's no flexibility to do that. That leads into my next question I was going to ask you, do you have *** lot of people tying up these emergency services when they're not needed? And how do you determine who goes, where, who can I pull? Because I'm sure, I think you said nine crews were out that day. All nine were busy. You have the teenager who is suffering this injury in this basketball game. How do you determine which crew do I need to pull? Well, again, it's based on the availability of the, of what's out there at that particular moment. Um, if we do have *** crew, again, I stated that we triage the calls based on the information. So if we have *** crew en route to *** lesser call, say *** stubbed toe or going to chase down *** medical alarm, *** no contact medical alarm, we can pull them off to go to that emergency. Um, but if all your crews are committed, you know, you're, you're just, whoever becomes next stop available gets, gets handed that call. And since you're knowledgeable on the national level, do you know, some fire departments are actually pulling their firefighters away from taking medical calls because they just don't have enough people to actually fight fires. I have not seen that because fires are the lesser of what we do in the fire department today. And we're unique here in pennsylvania and Northeastern United States because most other parts of the country, the E. M. S. Is firebase D. M. S so that we can run VMS calls. As I just explained to you, we have 500 fire related 1200 E. M. S. So what they'll do is fires are fewer, but we can pull that emergency medical staff to be firefighters if there was *** combination system. Um, and that is *** very common model throughout the United States except the Northeast of the United States, where the older traditional fire departments and fire service delivery systems were uh instilled. And if you look back, you know, they all VMS in pennsylvania and north east started in the seventies, early seventies. And then in the nineties they transition to paid from volunteer and now they're predominantly all paid. And yet the fire service started as volunteers 280 years ago with Ben franklin and we still remain predominantly volunteer. Well, this is *** time where we're listening, the community is listening. Anything that you want to say individually that you've been wanting to say while you're dealing with this frustration of shortages leading to delayed response times that affect the community. Well, I mean, um, it's ***, it's *** good career. I've enjoyed it for the years that I've been there. Um I enjoy helping people if you enjoy doing something like that and making *** difference. I mean, you get *** great deal of personal satisfaction enjoying the job. Um It is physical, it is demanding, but it is *** great career and the money is coming up there to where it's comparable to many other jobs that would be out on the street. And the education isn't, isn't really taxing. You know, you can make it through the education process and get to certification. So if you know, if you like excitement, you know, if you like lights and sirens and you like going out and doing that kind of work. I mean, come see me, well, we'll do what we can to get you on board. But it is *** very rewarding career. I started actually, last July was my 40th anniversary since I started as *** junior firefighter and I spent 28 years as *** volunteer firefighter before I was blessed to um take this job as chief and and get paid to do what I love. It is *** very rewarding career as as Bill said, it, it has, its ups and downs, but it has so much good in it. Um it's great, there's great camaraderie involved, but the reality is, I want to say to the youth out there now is the time to start training for this because there are gonna be many, many jobs before I retire within the next decade. I believe that you're gonna see *** lot more career positions both on E. M. S. And fire just because of the need and the lack of volunteers. And if you go and get involved now, you'll be *** step ahead of everybody else. But the reality is the volunteer fire services and it's not their fault. They're struggling. They just can't keep their trying to keep it together. The best they can. The truth is, we are in dire straits. We need to fundamentally transform the emergency services in pennsylvania. And you know, as I explained you earlier up until 2008, there was no legal requirement for *** municipal government to provide fire E. M. S. Protection. We've gotten away without paying for it for 280 years. We'll spend three or $4 million 50,000 on *** fire department and sometimes nothing on ambulance. That paradigm needs to shift. We we need we got away with it for *** long time, but it's time that we're gonna have to pay for those services or else when you're down 911, somebody might not show up. I don't mean to scare people, but that's the reality we're facing in the future. I mean, we talk about emergency response times and you admit there are delayed response and you think about numbers and how long it takes for me to get here, how long this person had to wait. But there are people's lives attached to these numbers. There are people waiting to live seeing their homes burned down. What would you say to the community about what you're dealing with? Because that's what they're hearing right now while they're listening to your issues, they're hearing about them. Right? Well, I mean again, we're trying to take care of *** greater number of people. So um you know, I I mean we're coming, we're trying to do what we can, you know where we there's *** lot of training and call taking and triaging of calls and call management and getting the right resource to the right area as quickly as we can. But it's such *** fluid situation every day is different. Again, as the chief set in E. M. S, we look at those numbers and time of days and try to have the most staff on duty when it's the busiest statistically. But when you don't have staff, you know, there's only so much you you can do, but it's *** work in progress, still ahead on w ta listens *** local leader talking about changes when it comes to responding to fires. We've always been in good hands, We've always been safe as safe as one can be when *** house is on fire. What he's saying about *** recent switch in his community, welcome back to W. T. ***. Listens *** local community seeing recent changes. Mckees Rocks has transformed its emergency response plan for firefighters. What will this ultimately mean for the borough? And the community? Take *** listen. I'm here with Mckees Rocks. Mayor David flick, thanks so much for being here and talking about this new emergency response plan that the borough was kind of forced to make *** tough decision. Right? Well, that makes it sound *** lot more exciting, I think, than than all of that across the board, fire safety, public safety, those type of things. Those are actually ongoing processes. From year to year to year. I became mayor last year from that point, you know, you start looking into everything you can learn and you wanna, you wanna, you wanna know what's going on. Um, ultimately, uh, Burrow had to make *** decision and the borough made *** decision during that time, you know, our fire safety was consistent because of mutual aid agreements. Um, the nice thing about this, I don't mean this to sound like I'm copping out of it, but uh, fire departments, um, as individual entities, they have their own rules and the way they run themselves plus the fire marshal handles over that no one borough, you know, Mckee's Roxboro can't possibly, uh, we couldn't have *** professional fire department. I mean that would be maybe the super objective, but uh you know in *** perfect scenario, nothing would catch on fire anyway. So you know, but in *** perfect scenario, one could afford that type of thing. Um the mutual grade, pardon me, the mutual aid agreements that all these volunteer fire departments engage with each other that keeps everybody at *** level of safety regardless of who you're. Number one is at that time. Um we have *** new number one. That's really the only big epic change. We've always been in good hands. We've always been safe um as safe as one can be when *** house is on fire. You know, that's the that's the reality of it. Um there's always been these good uh generous men and women who have been willing to put their bodies out there and whether they are at that department of this department, men show up, women show up, they put these fires out, take care of the problems still ahead. All of the incentives, all of the reasons of why volunteer would choose to volunteer. Um Those things are changing pretty regularly searching for solutions, what could be done to get more people involved in emergency services and how it could ultimately help you Welcome back to W. T. ***. Listens throughout this half hour we've been talking about the challenges emergency responders are facing, but we want to look at some solutions to what might help emergency responders get to where they're supposed to be and help the people in need. I'm here with the Chief of Allegheny County Emergency Services, Matt Brown thanks so much for being here. Now. We're talking about emergency response times and delays in response across the area. You cover one of the biggest areas, Allegheny County, what's the situation like here? So Allegheny County has 100 and 30 municipalities and within those 130 municipalities there's almost 400 public safety entities. So 100 and 70 fire departments, the majority of which are volunteer or *** combination. Um 106 police departments and 40 E. M. S. Agencies. Um We do not dispatch for all of them, the greater majority of them we do dispatch for, there are still 13 communities that dispatch themselves. So all of that adds to the complexity of emergency response within the county. There's *** lot of entities, *** lot of hands in the pot. So what happens when you don't have enough people? Are you experiencing *** shortage like some other places are so I can speak from the emergency management, the 911 side. Um Yes we have the same staffing issues that I think most industries and certainly the 911 industry has um of being able to not only retain but also to recruit the talent that we need to operate. 911 and I think all of the public safety energies have the same challenges? I certainly know that from interacting with them every day, but particularly when you look on the volunteer fire department side, again, it's volunteer. Um, you know, all of the incentives, all of the reasons of why volunteer would choose to volunteer. Um, those things are changing pretty regularly. Um, and quite frankly, they have been since probably even in the seventies. How do you get people to volunteer, not just fill the positions of *** full time job, but to volunteer, I've been *** volunteer firefighter for going on about 38 years as well. Um, and my, you know, I reflect often as to what really drew me to that and it was the camaraderie, the teamwork, but also learning those life skills. Um, and that's something that we preach and emergency services every day, even just to encourage citizens to want to learn CPR um, those are life skills that while maybe you're working as an E. M. T. Or *** paramedic or firefighter. There are skills that go with you, um, that you can share with your family and your friends as, as certainly as *** citizen to help others at all times. Um, it's that same way with anything that you do in public safety. Those life skills can be used for everything. Now we've been told by several officials that there is *** delay in response time in different areas, including Allegheny County, when *** call comes in and dispatch has to get it say all the crews are busy. This happened in Beaver County recently. How do you decide? Well, let me pull this crew, we have to take this person away. How does the dispatcher decide what's important? So I think it's important to sort of understand the life of *** 911 call. So if you call or text Allegheny County 911, you're immediately connected with *** call taker. Um, I stress immediately, but I also have to caution the public that right now on the parkway west there could be an accident. Um, think about the traffic that's passing that accident. In addition to those who are involved in the accident, how many people could be calling Allegheny County 911 because of that one accident. It could be 50 60 people based on what they're seeing. Um, we do, we do and and the view and the aspect and the information could be different in each of those cases. It could be *** caller reporting *** secondary accident. That's not the one that we're actually dealing with. So again, our call takers have to be very vigilant, very professional to vet out that information correctly before they actually get to the point where they can say okay, it's the same call and yes, we have emergency responders on the way. What are some solutions that the county can do to help with this delayed response time. We know there's *** problem. So let's try and talk about the solutions or ideas or how to fix this issue. Yeah. So one of my roles as the Chief of Emergency services is I am the emergency management coordinator for the county. So if I look at these issues um as an emergency manager, um, we're really playing *** coordinating role. Um, we certainly involve ourselves with all the major organizations related to police, fire and E. M. S. Where we have the capacity to do that. We're connected to them every day with 911 and helping that communications but being involved in their organizations. Um, I was out late last evening just with the Allegheny County Fire Chiefs Association reviewing all those topics um, that are highlighted within the county right now. Um recruiting volunteers, retention of volunteers. Um, what departments are are lacking and maybe not available at certain times of days, all those issues and we have *** coordinating role with each of them as well of potential solutions. Uh, sometimes the solution could be putting two departments together many times. That's not my suggestion, but we can be part of that process. And certainly we need to be part of that process Because as they change our 911 operations needs to change and adapt to that as well. Um, so that we have that in our system correctly and that we are grabbing the right resource that's gonna fit the response that's needed. Stay with us. W T *** E Listens continues in just two minutes. Welcome back to W. T. ***. Listens. And as we leave you this morning, we want to listen to you to tell us about what's wrong and what's right in your area no matter where you live, so we can listen to those who have the ability to make changes, You can send us an email W ta listens at hearst dot com. Thanks for joining us and have *** good week.

On this week's "WTAE Listens," we wanted to look into the importance of emergency response times in our area. We've seen in recent weeks that each second counts and can mean the difference between life and death — whether it's a medical emergency, fire or other emergency situation. Watch this week's full episode of "WTAE Listens" in the video player above.

On this week's "WTAE Listens," we wanted to look into the importance of emergency response times in our area.

We've seen in recent weeks that each second counts and can mean the difference between life and death — whether it's a medical emergency, fire or other emergency situation.


Watch this week's full episode of "WTAE Listens" in the video player above.

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