Beaufort County tweaks emergency procedures after EMS study

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Beaufort County tweaks emergency procedures after EMS study

Published Friday, January 6, 2012   |  530 Words  |  

Beaufort County ambulance crews have shaved about a minute off the average time it takes them to depart after getting an emergency call, county EMS director Donna Ownby says.

On average, EMS units needed about 2 minutes, 9 seconds to leave their stations in 2010.

Now, after the county emphasized the importance of getting out the door quickly, the average time is 1 minute, 1 second, Ownby said.

Other initiatives could shorten response times further.

In July 2010, after several incidents raised questions about the quality and speed of the county's EMS care, Beaufort County Council commissioned a $225,000 review of policies and procedures.

Consultants with CRA of Alexandria, Va. wrote in their report, released in March, that the county provides "a sound level of service."

But they also recommended dozens of changes.

Now, about nine months later, many have been made, Ownby and county emergency management director Todd Ferguson told the council's Governmental Committee on Tuesday.

Among them:

  • Dispatchers now send first-responders as soon as 911 callers provide essential information instead of waiting for details. It's too early to measure how much this has sped the process, Ferguson said.
  • Under an old policy, when an ambulance was dispatched, others moved to cover its territory. But that movement has been mostly eliminated. "What CRA had found was that it was not decreasing response times because nobody can predict where the next call is going to come from," Ownby said.
  • All of the county's dispatchers soon will be trained as emergency-medical dispatchers, allowing them to provide instructions -- such has how to perform CPR or stop a wound from bleeding -- over the phone.
  • Patients are no longer charged a "non-transport" fee for ambulance service if they are not taken to the hospital.
  • Other recommendations are currently being adopted or reviewed:

  • Dispatchers use number codes when speaking over the radio, but consultants recommended switching to plain language to avoid confusion. Staff from each of the fire districts are discussing whether to switch, Ferguson said.
  • EMS and fire units are dispatched on separate radio channels. Consultants said they should be combined into one channel so all emergency workers get the same information at the same time. Ferguson said technicians are reprogramming the county's system for that change.
  • Follow reporter Kyle Peterson at

    Related content

    1. Status report on EMS recommendations, Jan. 3, 2012
    2. Study of Beaufort County's EMS system, March 22, 2011
    3. County's EMS system called 'sound,' with room for improvement, March 22, 2011
    4. County hires firm to assess EMS services and fire departments, July 26, 2010