The other day my wife, Karen, who is a paramedic with 32 years experience dealing with the public, had an interesting day.
She works for Oak Valley Hospital District (ambulance division) and is usually assigned to work the Riverbank station. On this particular shift she and her partner were asked to respond to a vehicle accident. The accident was located north of Escalon and they were being sent because the Escalon ambulance was already assigned to another emergency call. As they responded with their lights and sirens on they approached a red light intersection and had to navigate around a truck and a few other vehicles. After clearing the intersection the dispatch center advised them that another ambulance had cleared their call and was closer to the accident scene. Karen’s ambulance was “cancelled” and they were then assigned to “Post.” They shut off their emergency lights and siren and drove to a location that would best cover two different communities they needed to cover (Oakdale and Riverbank). This happened to be the corner of Langworth Road and Highway 108.
After sitting at post for about 20 minutes a gentleman drove his vehicle into the parking area and got out his car. Not uncommon since people are often interested as to why an ambulance is always sitting in this location. The gentleman politely began speaking to them but not the usual question and answer. He started off by saying ‘I just wanted to know who I need to report to your management.’ A bit confused and getting a little worried, the crew politely listened to this man. He said ‘I am surprised, I thought you would be some “newbie” crew’ (I guess he was referring to my bride’s beautiful gray locks). He continued in a growing irritated tone, that he highly respected EMS workers but was angry at their antics surrounding their recent response. He told my wife and her partner that they should be ashamed for playing with the public, using their lights and siren to get through intersections and then shutting them off and carrying on their merry way!
Now that Karen understood what was happening she informed the gentleman of the circumstances and that they were acting under orders to respond to a vehicle accident. She also explained that it is not uncommon in EMS (emergency medical services) for information to change and cancellations to occur. He then wanted to know why they had not returned to their base instead of parking at this particular corner… were they trying to avoid working? Again my calm and collected bride gave this inquisitive individual an explanation. ‘You see sir… we rarely get to see our ambulance station. We are moved regularly in order to provide the fastest response times to our response zone. When one community’s ambulance is sent out, often other ambulances are shifted around to better cover everyone. We do this in a spirit of cooperation, community to community.’
Karen gave the gentleman the number of her EMS/Ambulance chief and his name and invited him to call for more information. He never called…
Ambulance response systems are by design set up to give the public the best possible response times. Information on every 911 call is entered into a computer system that regularly takes the data, crunches the numbers and gives it to a group of EMS/Ambulance Chiefs to consider how they will best deploy their resources to cover an area. It’s kind of a battle plan, so to speak, the goal to keep ambulances strategically located to quickly attack any situation that the 911 system throws at them. This system management tries to keep the right number of ambulances and crews, in the right place at the right time.
Response distance in the rural areas typically can be up to 10 miles, not two to three like the bigger cities. In the cities a trip to the hospital can average three or four miles, here in the Escalon area for example, we average 17 miles. We have to have ambulances in those small towns in order to provide an acceptable response time. When those small town ambulances go to calls it takes a while for them to clear for the next call. Other rural ambulances and sometimes bigger cities’ ambulances like Modesto and Stockton are moving to locations like Langworth Road and Highway 108 or Santa Fe Road at the Stanislaus River Bridge, or Claribel Road and Albers Road, to name a few. Moving places them within a striking distance that should give the best possible response time for the greatest number of people. EMS/Ambulance Chiefs work together in a spirit of cooperation to provide a system that works for everyone.
So the next time you see an ambulance responding with its lights and siren on full burn and they suddenly turn them off and pull into a McDonald’s and get a soda, don’t get your unmentionables in a bunch. They most likely were cancelled and told to go sit in the McDonald’s parking lot and wait for their next assignment. If you see an ambulance crew sitting in some little roadside rest stop at 11 at night they aren’t there to enjoy the moonlight, they are standing watch over you.
Michael Pitassi is the EMS/Ambulance Chief for Escalon Community Ambulance, a division of OVHD, Oak Valley Hospital District.