Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Pinellas County dispatchers to gauge 911 emergencies

The way medical emergencies get handled in Pinellas County is changing. Soon dispatchers will question 911 callers to gauge how serious the situation is and ensure a proportionate response.

The County Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to begin what's called "priority dispatch" in April. Officials said they would start slowly and not begin tweaking responses until summer.

In critical cases, priority dispatch won't delay responses, officials say, though in less severe emergencies it will take longer for help to arrive.

The move is a key step in the planned overhaul of the county's emergency medical response system, which many leaders fault as redundant, wasteful and unsustainable.

The system, in which a county property tax pays for paramedics and rescue vehicles managed by Pinellas' 19 fire rescue districts, is facing an $18 million budget shortfall in the coming fiscal year.

Currently, both a fire-rescue vehicle and an ambulance respond to medical 911 calls before an attempt has been made to determine whether callers are confronting a life-threatening emergency or an ankle sprain.

Chuck Freeman, the county's 911 systems manager, said the generous response goes overboard too often, wasting money and tying up units on routine calls so they're not available for critical ones.

"It really should have taken place years ago," Freeman said of the move to priority dispatch, standard in most jurisdictions.

After verifying a 911 caller's location, a priority dispatcher asks what happened. If the caller describes a severe situation, for instance mentioning drowning or hanging, units are sent before any more questions are asked.

Roughly 0.3 percent of medical 911 calls in Pinellas fall into this dire "echo response" category. Freeman said in such cases, priority dispatch won't lengthen response times.

In situations not as immediately life-threatening, dispatchers ask a set of uniform questions to assess the crisis. Depending on the situation, Freeman said questioning could add 20, 30 or 40 seconds to a response time.

Brett Patterson, an academic and standards researcher for the National Academies of Emergency Dispatch, used to work in the Pinellas system and agreed with Freeman that it's time the county moved to priority dispatch.

"When you run that ambulance and rescue with lights and sirens on somebody who isn't circling the drain," he said, "then what happens when you get that heart attack call?"

Will Van Sant can be reached at or (727) 445-4166.

Pinellas County dispatchers to gauge 911 emergencies 03/03/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 3, 2009 11:02pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Trump's lawyers seek to undercut Mueller's Russia investigation


    Some of President Donald Trump's lawyers are exploring ways to limit or undercut Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, building a case against what they allege are his conflicts of interest and discussing the president's authority to grant pardons, the Washington Post reported, citing people familiar …

    President Donald Trump is said to be irritated by the notion that the special counsel's investigation could reach into his and his family's finances. [Associated Press]
  2. North Tampa shooting leaves one man dead


    Times staff

    TAMPA — A man was fatally shot Thursday afternoon after an argument with another man escalated, police said.

  3. St. Pete City Council tightens building rules in historic areas

    Local Government

    ST. PETERSBURG — There's a battle being waged over the soul of the city's historic neighborhoods.

    A new larger home sits next to a smaller one in the Kenwood neighborhood in St. Petersburg on Tuesday.
  4. Ole Miss football coach Hugh Freeze resigns over 'inappropriate conduct' (w/ video)


    OXFORD, Miss. — Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze was at Jackson Country Club on Wednesday night, giving his yearly rah-rah speech about the Rebels overcoming adversity and getting ready for the college football season.

    If Hugh Freeze hadn’t resigned, Ole Miss says it would have fired him for violating his contract’s moral turpitude clause.
  5. Fennelly: With playoff chase in high gear, it's time for Rays to make a move

    The Heater


    Thursday was an off-day for the Rays, who are coming off a solid western swing. I assume there was no rest for the tag-team Rays baseball brain trust of Matt Silverman, Erik Neander and Chaim Bloom, whose job it is to improve this team in advance of the trade deadline. They've done a good job …

    Evan Longoria is glad to see the Rangers coming to town: He’s batting .296 against them with 15 homers and 56 RBIs in 69 career games.