By SHERIDAN CYR
Emergency vehicle response time has been a hot topic at recent town meetings. At an early April Town Council meeting, councilor Chris Robertson (D)—a member of the fire commission—expressed concern about ambulance response time in Southington.
“If any councilperson would like to go and hear the dispatch radio I heard last night, it was cringing,” Robertson told councilors. “We had six accidents within four hours, and at one point, we did not have an AMR (American Medical Response) vehicle in Southington.”
At the April 23 meeting, they followed up with an invitation to Shane Lockwood, the director of health at the Plainville-Southington Regional Health District. As chair of the Emergency Medical Service (EMS) Committee, Lockwood was able to speak to the issue.
He explained the Town of Southington has two full-time ambulances that provide service around the clock and one part-time ambulance that serves for 40 hours. The part-time ambulance is dedicated strictly to Southington, on weekdays, during “peak hours” from noon to 8 p.m.
Lockwood said that the part-time ambulance hours are determined from statistics, and the three ambulances are provided to the town through a three-year contract with AMR, who tracks and monitors its vehicles and is in communication with the Southington Police Department (SPD).
All emergency calls are directed to the SPD dispatch, where an employee will input the caller’s information into a computer program that determines the level of priority.
“The contract states that the AMR has to respond within 7:59 for a priority one call, and 13:59 for a priority two call,” Lockwood said. “Our average response time is 6:42 for priority one calls, and 9:09 for priority two.”
Each month, AMR provides the EMS Committee with a list of all of their calls. The committee reviews the calls and discusses how the town may be able to respond better. The committee meets on a quarterly basis, however Lockwood said that any calls that have a response time of over 150 percent longer than required, it has to be reported to Lockwood within 10 days.
“There is work that goes on outside of our meetings,” Lockwood said.
The director of health reported 440 calls in March, but said that it’s difficult to predict. Research shows that the lowest number of monthly calls (379) came in between February 2016 to February 2018, and the highest number of calls (541) came in December 2016. When all three ambulances are in use, police and fire departments are called in to assist. This is referred to as “overload.”
“The Police and Fire Departments do such a great job responding during an overload,” Lockwood said. “Dispatchers do an amazing job, as well.” He noted the dispatchers are not given credit often, but they do much more than answer the phone.
Beyond answering and determining what type of response the caller needs, the dispatcher provides advice and helps to try to stabilize the situation via phone.
The council requested Lockwood return to their next meeting with more statistical information on overloads, and to also provide a report on the logistics behind potentially securing a third full-time ambulance for the town. They will meet on May 14 to review the findings.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Cyr, email her at SCyr@SouthingtonObserver.com.