Tina Trenkner is the Deputy Editor for GOVERNING.com. She edits the Technology and Health newsletters.E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Providing dispatchers with tools to decide when to turn off the lights and sirens on an ambulance call could prevent accidents without compromising speed or service.
Ambulances often travel to the location of an accident with sirens blaring and lights flashing, even if the EMTs are responding to a serious but not life-threatening emergency. This puts commuters on alert and increases the risk of additional accidents as cars try to move out of the path of an ambulance. In Frankin, Wis., a town near Milwaukee with 34,000 people, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that the fire department recently completed a three-month pilot in which dispatchers worked through a question-and-answer format (PDF) before deciding to dispatch an ambulance with or without lights and sirens. During the pilot, dispatchers decided to send ambulances without sirens or lights for nearly one in every four 911 calls. Not one of those dispatches needed to provide a more urgent response than previously determined. On average, ambulances without lights and sirens arrived to the scene only 27 seconds later than ambulances that arrived with lights and sirens. The results of the pilot were promising enough that the city's Common Council voted (PDF) to extend the pilot program, in which the fire chief will provide an additional report on the pilot at the end of the year. Thumbnail photo illustration by stevendamron, available through a Creative Commons license.
Updated July 28, 2009 with PDF of the question-and-answer file. In the file, the blue codes are used to signify instances of when to send an ambulance without lights or sirens. Red is used in instances when lights and sirens are needed.