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Billings emergency dispatch moves to better match medical calls to best response

Posted at 5:36 PM, Nov 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-10 19:36:34-05

BILLINGS - It’s not always necessary to dispatch a million-dollar fire truck to a medical call, but that’s the way it has worked in Billings, at least until this week.

The City County Dispatch crew is now working a new computer program to help match the right resources with the needed response.

It’s called priority medical dispatch, and people on the other end of the phone will play an important part in that response.

“Most people that call 911 aren't having the best day and they're panicked, they're in a hurry,” said Derek Yeager, the City County Emergency communications manager.

Yeager said his team understands that, but dispatchers need people on the other end of the phone to answer a few quick, pointed, direct questions about what’s happening and how it happened.

Those questions and the answers on the other end of that 911 call are now more important than ever. They will help determine who shows up to help.

“Every day here, we encounter situations where we don't have enough fire trucks for fires. We don't have enough ambulances for medical situations,” said Yeager.

To help ease wait times and emergency response backlog, instead of sending both a fire and ambulance crew to every medical call, priority dispatch will help gauge the difference between emergencies needing basic life support response or advanced life support response.

“Where a fire truck and an ambulance used to show up, it may just be an ambulance now, but that also leaves that fire truck for its intended purpose of fires, rescues, hazardous materials," Yeager said.

Billings Fire Department engineer and paramedic Cameron McCamley said this is a good step in the right direction. “Even though our name says Fire Department, we are an all-hazards agency.”

McCamley said on top of fire and paramedic work, crews train and perform rope rescues (often from the Rims), water rescue, and hazmat response.

He said prioritizing response will help ensure resources are used the way they’re intended.

Both firefighters and dispatchers say if there’s any question about calls, they will always err on the side of caution and send both a fire and an American Medical Response ambulance crew to the call.

And as for the people on the other end of the 911 call, Yeager asks them to, “try and take a deep breath. Please answer our questions. Please cooperate with the caller and please know that as you're doing that things are happening in the background in a way that you can't see.”

All with the goal to match the right resources with the needed response.