Cost Accounting in Local Government

What can Police Officers teach Firefighters?

In October of 2009, I wrote an article about what Firefighters could teach Police Officers. Thanks to an article in the Los Angeles Times on May 14, 2012, it’s time to look in the other direction. The subtitle of the article is “Patients who summon paramedics for rides to clinics or to refill prescriptions are taking time and resources from patients with dire needs.”

This is not a new problem to me. Over the years of costing Fire services, I’ve encountered lots of the non-emergency services that Paramedics are asked to perform. The “Times” article was referring to the Los Angeles County Fire Department where the Paramedics “…responded to 543,715 calls in 2010…“ and where County staff estimated that about 20% of those calls were non-emergency calls that could be handled differently. This calculates to one wasted Paramedic response every 5 minutes in LA County.

The big concern in changing current practices to curb the abuse of this service is the fear of making the wrong decision and not helping someone who really needs help. Most judgment calls are easy to make. If there has been a major accident with multiple injuries you definitely send Paramedics, Engine Companies withEMS/BLS-trained firefighters, and ambulances. Whereas, if Grandpa John has fallen out of bed and Grandma can’t lift him up to get back in bed you send someone to help and consider billing for the service.

That leaves the 10 to 20% in the middle that are true judgment calls. Expecting a dispatcher to make the judgment call will require additional training to determine if a probable medical emergency exists.

What changes have Police Departments made to procedures to try and maximize the availability of Officers for emergencies? When I was a kid, if a home was burglarized the Police would race out to the home after being called. Today, the homeowner is cautioned about what not to touch and a civilian Community Services Officer (CSO) or the equivalent will come out to take a report, and if there is a possibility of evidence, schedule a crime scene investigator (also civilian) to search for clues.

When I was a kid, Police Officers would respond to all automobile accidents. Now, many jurisdictions determine whether there are any injuries and, if not, a civilian officer (CSO) will come and take the accident report, or a Police Officer will appear long enough to give each party a form to fill out and submit. In other words, Police Departments have made a special effort to insure that Officers’ time for true emergencies is maximized.

All Fire Departments should read that Los Angeles Times article and, if they haven’t already, begin the discussion on how to structure Paramedic services so that Paramedics’ time for true emergencies is also maximized.

Link to the Los AngelesTimes article – L.A.County’s 911 system burdened by non-emergency calls

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