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What happens when you dial 911 with a medical emergency in Pinellas County?

EMS by the numbers

180,000: Approximate number of EMS calls annually in Pinellas. Includes non-emergency calls, such as transport from a nursing home to a hospital, as well as emergency calls (about 500 a day).

130,000: Approximate number of people taken to a hospital (about 350 a day).

65: Sunstar ambulances in Pinellas

$495: Average cost of a Sunstar ride

$240: Amount Paramedics Plus (company that contracts to run Sunstar) receives for each run to the hospital.

$30 million: Approximate amount Sunstar receives each year for transporting patients. This all comes from user fees.

$28.5 million: Amount of savings/reserves held by the county from ambulance user fees. This was saved over 20 years.

$40 million: What county pays to 19 fire departments in Pinellas to provide emergency medical service. This comes from property taxes and is in addition to taxes the county, municipalities and special districts collect to provide firefighting services.

$5 million: Cost to replace all ambulances. (Paramedics Plus says they all need to be replaced now.)

4 million: Combined miles all the ambulances travel in a year.

538: Sunstar employees

4 minutes and 18 seconds: Average time it takes a firefighter/paramedic/EMT to get to a scene.

Levels of response

Pinellas County has identified five levels of urgency when it comes to medical emergencies. The level is determined by the 911 operator from information given during the call. The level determines how many paramedics/EMTs respond and the amount of time they are allowed to get to the scene.

Alpha response Nonlife-threatening situations. Minor vehicle crash. Sprains. Unlikely these patients will be taken to a hospital. One vehicle is sent from a fire station. If the fire vehicle is busy, a Sunstar ambulance will be sent. The fire vehicle is expected to be there within 15 minutes 90 percent of the time. If a Sunstar ambulance is sent, it must arrive within 20 minutes at least 90 percent of the time. Either way, at least two paramedics/EMTs will be sent. The total number of paramedics/EMTs who will respond range from two to five. Alpha level calls account for about 9 percent, or 13,000 calls, each year in Pinellas.

Bravo response — Potentially life-threatening emergency, such as unknown situations, serious bleeding/injury, pregnancy, psychiatric problems. A minimum of two vehicles (one a first response unit from a fire station and the second a Sunstar ambulance) with at least two paramedics/EMTs. The total number of paramedics/EMTs who will respond range from two to five. The fire units are required to arrive within 71/2 minutes 90 percent of the time. The Sunstar ambulance is required to arrive within 10 minutes 90 percent of the time. Bravo level calls account for about 2 percent, or 2,000 calls, each year in Pinellas.

Charlie response — Potentially life-threatening emergency, such as difficulty breathing, sick person is not alert, diabetic issues, stroke, overdose, serious injury. A minimum of two vehicles (one a first-response unit from a fire station and the second a Sunstar ambulance) with at least four paramedics/EMTs. Number of paramedics/EMTs who will respond is from four to eight. The fire trucks are required to arrive within 71/2 minutes 90 percent of the time. The Sunstar ambulance is required to arrive within 10 minutes 90 percent of the time. Charlie level calls account for about 25 percent, or 35,000 calls, each year in Pinellas.

Delta response — Also a life-threatening emergency. The patient is undergoing chest pain, having trouble breathing, is unconscious, is having a seizure or dangerous bleeding (think spurting arteries). A minimum of two vehicles (one a first-response unit from a fire station and the second a Sunstar ambulance) with at least four paramedics/EMTs. The total number of paramedics/EMTs who will respond ranges from four to eight. The firefighters are required to arrive within 71/2 minutes 90 percent of the time. The Sunstar ambulance is required to arrive within 10 minutes 90 percent of the time. Delta level calls account for about 35 percent, or 49,000 calls, each year in Pinellas.

Echo response Life-threatening situation when a patient is not breathing or having trouble breathing. This includes choking, hangings and drowning. A minimum of two vehicles (one a first-response unit from a fire station and the second a Sunstar ambulance) with at least four paramedics/EMTs. The total number of paramedics/EMTs who will respond range from four to eight. The fire guys are required to arrive within 71/2 minutes 90 percent of the time. The Sunstar ambulance is required to arrive within 10 minutes 90 percent of the time. Echo level calls account for 2,000 calls or less than 2 percent, each year in Pinellas.

Frequently asked questions

What kind of EMS system does Pinellas County have?

A dual-response public utility model, in which the government retains control of and sets standards for the ambulance system while contracting the service to an outside company. There are 11 in the United States and one in Canada. A dual-response system means both firefighter/paramedics/EMTs and an ambulance go to emergencies..

Which is called first, the fire department or an ambulance?

They are called simultaneously. The fire departments are first responders, meaning they're paid to get there first.

Why do I see Sunstar ambulances just hanging around in parking lots?

Ambulances are deployed using computer programs that predict where an accident is most likely to happen at any given time. The ambulancebulances are sent to those areas to be close in case an accident does happen. They are moved around during the day.

How does 911 know which ambulance is closest?

The system has a GPS-like component.

Sources: Pinellas County EMS, Paramedics Plus/Sunstar

Anne Lindberg, Times staff writer

What happens when you dial 911 with a medical emergency in Pinellas County? 06/19/09 [Last modified: Sunday, June 21, 2009 7:27pm]
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