911 board may discuss ambulance service

PARKERSBURG – Wood County 911 Director Randy Lowe said he hopes to call a special 911 Advisory Board meeting to discuss and review ambulance service procedures, protocols and concerns.

Concerns were raised earlier this week by Vienna officials who said there was a callout for an “unresponsive” woman at a Vienna residence and no local ambulances were available to respond.

Officials said an ambulance from Wirt County was called, but it took so long for it to respond, the Parkersburg Fire Department, which also had responded, transported the woman to the hospital.

“The ambulance that was coming was out of Wirt County. Vienna Fire Department is not a medical responder, but they toned us out as well to see if there was anything we could do. I don’t know the exact time it took to get there, but this lady was just holding on by a thread,” Vienna Fire Chief Steve Scholl told the commissioners Monday.

“Our main concern is if the ambulance is going to be that far away. It’s my understanding the Vienna ambulance was out of service, going to a routine transfer in Coolville,” Scholl said.

“If the ambulances are being taken out of service from emergency calls and being put on for routine transfers, and the ambulance has to come from some far away place, we feel there needs to be another carrier brought in. All we needed was an ambulance to get her to the hospital,” Scholl said.

“Waiting for an ambulance from Wirt County is basically unacceptable when you’re lying there dying,” he said.

“This is a very serious issue and, of course, everyone has a different perspective on how it should be addressed. My focus is first and foremost what is best for the community, protection of the 911 center and the county commission,” Lowe said.

Commissioners asked for a report back from the 911 advisory board the week of Oct. 21.

The 911 advisory board doesn’t meet in regular session again until November. Lowe said he will ask the commission to allow a special meeting to present the concerns to the board.

“The advisory board is not an authority; it is an advisory group. They make recommendations; they have no authority to tell 911 or the county commission what to do. But they can review the issue, then make recommendations based on the information given to them, providing their own perceptions based on their fields of expertise,” Lowe said.

The 911 advisory board has representatives from the Wood County Firefighters Association; Williams-town, Parkersburg and Vienna police and fire departments; industry; St. Joseph’s and Camden-Clark Ambulance Services; Wood County Sheriff’s Department; the general public; Lowe representing the 911 center; Wood County Commissioner Steve Gainer as commission liaison to the committee; a media representative; Deputy Sheriff’s Association; Wood County Emergency Management Director Ed Hupp; representatives of health care providers; West Virginia State Police and Wirt County officials. The 911 center covers Wood and Wirt counties.

“I think we need to get a feel for everyone involved with the issue and that’s why the 911 advisory board would be the best entity to go to; everyone has a representative,” Lowe said.

“I would like for everyone to have an opportunity to recommend a solution that will best benefit the community effectively, knowing there are financial and liability issues involved,” Lowe said.

The 911 director said he wants to make sure whatever solution is proposed it is not going to be an undue hardship to the dispatchers, preventing them from doing an efficient job.

Lowe noted the 911 dispatchers have an emergency medical dispatching protocol they use, but they do not have medical training that would enable them to decide whether an ambulance is merited when a call comes requesting an ambulance; 911 dispatches an ambulance under the current procedures.

“If a 911 dispatcher makes the decision on whether an ambulance should be sent or not, then the dispatcher becomes liable. If we tell the caller no, liability falls on us, and individuals don’t get the assistance they requested and deserve,” Lowe said.

The question in the Vienna case was availability of ambulances.

“We need to address who will have final say as to whether an ambulance is dispatched. With police and fire calls, the officers in charge make that call,” Lowe said.

“I want to put the people who have the expertise on how calls should be handled in their hands, not in the dispatchers’ hands. The dispatchers are responsible for answering the phones and dispatching proper help.

“It’s not practical for dispatchers to attend fire and police academies to be an expert in all fields. We rely on the experts in those fields to make those decisions. We provide the information from the caller that we have and the experts make the decision on how they want to handle it,” Lowe said.

“In the eight years I’ve been here we have had an excellent rapport with all the public service agencies and they do a great job for this community. I have 100 percent confidence in their ability to make the right decision at the right time. I am also confident we will be able to work through this issue and come up with a viable solution that will best serve the community,” Lowe said.

The ambulance dispatching protocol is for the telecommunicators to send the closest ambulance. Each service has its own station and they also share, Lowe said. Backups are Belpre and Wirt County. Marietta has also assisted at times in the Williamstown area if personnel are available and there is a need.

According to recent statistics from the 911 center, 10 times monthly ambulances from Belpre or Wirt County have been called to assist due to a lack of local ambulance availability. About 1,110 ambulance calls are received monthly by the 911 center.

St. Joseph’s Ambulance Service and Camden Clark Medical Center Ambulance Service provide ambulance services to the county.