Dallas Fire-Rescue says new system will help prioritize calls

Dallas Fire-Rescue is getting a new system to help handle the thousands of emergency calls they get for service every year.

The new system will prioritize certain medical calls and send the appropriate response. Every call will still be answered, whether it's an ambulance or a fire engine that is sent out.

Officials say this will help free up their limited ambulances for other emergency calls, but the firefighter’s association said it still has serious concerns.

“Traditionally what we've always done is medical emergencies, we dispatch an ambulance,” said DFR Asst. Chief Daniel Salazar. “We all know a lot of the medical calls that do come in don't necessarily require an ambulance.”

DFR says only 40 percent of their calls actually need an ambulance for hospital transports, so the new system takes information from emergency calls and automatically prioritizes them.

“The call takers they receive this information, they enter the data. Based on the information, it categorizes this call,” Salazar said.

Officials say the new call system will help free up ambulances by sending a fire engine to low priority calls instead. Dallas Fire-Rescue only has 40 ambulances in service. Two more are coming, but a city of the size of Dallas should have about 52.

“That's going to help us keep our ambulances in service until they're really needed for the more serious medical emergencies,” Salazar said.

But some are skeptical this will help.

“As it's designed right now it's not gonna affect anything with the ambulance shortages,” said Jim McDade, president, Dallas Firefighters Association.

McDade said the new system will not ease the workload.

“So the difference is you're now sending a much more expensive piece of equipment with more employees on it as opposed to an ambulance which is less expensive and only has two employees on it,” McDade said.

McDade believes things won't improve until they look into different ways to handle calls. 

“The issue is our call volume is so high, so how do we address our call volume,” McDade said. “We need to explore different alternative forms of response. I don't know if the answer is sending an $800,000 piece of equipment with four employees on it when we could probably find a different way to respond.”

DFR said it’s looking at other ways to improve their response to calls, like using squads of two person teams in SUVs to help with low priority medical calls that don't need a trip to the hospital. That is still in the works, but they believe it will help with the current workload.

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