Frivolous calls contribute to rise in EMT response times

A recent report finds that Philadelphia EMT response times are up. One reason, officials say, is an increase in frivolous, non-emergency calls.

One paramedic, who requested anonymity, recalls treating a girl who took one extra Motrin, Another time he was called to transport a nursing home patient dissatisfied with the food to another facility. Then there was the time he had to tend to the toddler with milk coming out of his nose.

“I said, ‘Well, did the child laugh when the milk came out of his nose?’ And [the mother] said yes. I asked if she’d like to take him to the emergency room, and she said yes,” he recalls. “I have to maintain a certain degree of professionalism. I can’t just wag my finger at somebody and say, ‘You’re an idiot.'”

A recent report by PhillyStat found that EMT calls were on the rise. The emergency response times were 6 minutes in 2009. Last year, they jumped to 8 minutes 22 seconds. Some fire departments claim the cost-saving brownouts are to blame. City officials say it’s non-emergency calls clogging the system.

This paramedic says, regardless of the cause, the calls divert from more important calls for help.

“Sometimes you’re on a call like that where the milk came out of a child’s nose and you can hear your radio and you can hear that a block away somebody’s having a heart attack,” said the paramedic. “You can’t stop what you’re doing. I can’t say, ‘Excuse me, ma’am, sorry about the milk coming out of your kid’s nose, somebody’s having a heart attack a block away. I gotta go.’ You’re bound to that person until you take them to the hospital or go through the process of being released from them.”

The city hopes to better educate the public about when to dial 911.

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