MAYVILLE - Stubbed toes and sore backs will have to wait in the city of Jamestown when ambulances are busy with more serious calls.
Hoping to prioritize emergency medical service calls in the city, the Chautauqua County Sheriff's Office, WCA Services Corp. and Jamestown Fire Department are leading efforts to shake up their dispatch system.
According to Sheriff Joe Gerace, the county's 911 system - handled by the sheriff's office - will begin dispatching EMS calls in the city based on level of care needed through an over-the-phone triage system.
Nick Caldwell, WCA Services dispatcher, works at his desk while a Starflight helicopter approaches a landing.
P-J photos by Eric Tichy
That means all 911 calls considered to be non-urgent will take a back seat for those considered urgent. For example, someone who dials 911 for a heart attack would get first dibs on an ambulance over someone who calls for a shoulder injury at the same time.
The new procedure will kick in when all but one ambulance is being used within the city.
The coordinated program, expected to take effect this month, is designed to maximize the city's advanced life support ambulances and to ensure critical care is there when summoned. The move will also keep emergency vehicles available within the city.
"The goal is to ensure that the proper level of care is available as much as possible," Gerace said. The system also will ensure that "people who need (advanced) care aren't delayed with a less important call."
Gerace said there is a similar system already in place within the county, as dispatchers are trained to give guidance over the phone for certain emergency situations - such as how to perform CPR to someone not breathing.
The new protocols, however, will set guidelines on how EMS calls are prioritized based on questions asked by dispatchers.
"We will deliver based on need," Gerace said.
So what will change when you call 911?
Under the current system, when an EMS call reaches the sheriff's office in Mayville, WCA Services Corp. (Alstar Ambulance) and the Jamestown Fire Department are contacted. The fire department will send a fire engine to the scene, regardless of the situation, while an Alstar ambulance responds.
The new dispatch system, however, will determine whether a fire engine is necessary. If the call is considered non-urgent, the fire department will remain in quarters. Calls will then be dispatched to Alstar based on priority. If no ambulances are available, or a call is deemed urgent, the fire department will respond, sometimes with its only ambulance.
"We're a very busy system," said Ron Hasson, communication and community outreach manager for Alstar. "This (system) will keep those ambulances for calls they need to go on."
Hasson said during peak hours, there are five Alstar ambulances stationed in the city. The same goes for Dunkirk. During busy periods, the triage system will ensure at least one ambulance is always free to respond to an emergency.
"It just makes sense," Hasson said.
When dispatching an ambulance, Alstar breaks the call down into three categories: Advanced care needed, basic care with priority, and standard basic care. If a standard basic call were to come in with only one available ambulance, Alstar will hold off dispatching for at least 20 minutes to ensure no urgent call is received.
If multiple ambulances are available, no call will be held.
"Most people will not even notice this (new system) is occurring," Gerace said.
However, officials say during busy periods, some residents may notice a delay in care for non-urgent calls. Officials also note that the system will mirror those already in place across the country.
"We're just playing catch-up," Gerace said.