The Los Angeles Fire Department is launching a sweeping overhaul of 911 call-handling procedures that officials say now contribute to delays in getting rescuers to victims in life-threatening medical emergencies, it was reported Monday.
By early next year, the agency expects its dispatchers to be using new, streamlined scripted questions that will help get LAFD ambulances en route seconds, even minutes, faster during cases of cardiac arrest and other time- critical emergencies, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The changes follow a barrage of criticism of the department's 911 response system, including what experts say are sometimes lengthy and confusing pre-written questions that panicked callers must answer before dispatchers can get help on the way.
"We have to focus on what really matters and get resources rolling with minimal delay," Fire Department Medical Director Marc Eckstein, an emergency room physician who is overseeing the reform effort, told The Times.
In 2012, a Times investigation found the LAFD call center fell far short of a national standard that rescue units be alerted within one minute on 9 percent of 911 calls. The analysis also found the average call processing time for medical emergencies, which account for the vast majority of responses, increased significantly between 2007 and 2012. Key findings of the analysis were later confirmed by city auditors and a Fire Department task force.
Eckstein said the current system has "gotten overly complex" and requires dispatchers to funnel medical emergencies into one of hundreds of different categories, including more than 30 different types of strokes. The new program being created by department staff will have fewer questions and allow more flexibility to get rescue units moving as details are being gathered from 911 callers, Eckstein told The Times.
Some dispatchers complain the scripted questions, instituted more than two decades ago after dispatchers mistakenly diagnosed a dying Chatsworth mother and refused to send help, are wasting precious time.
"We ask a lot of questions that end up going nowhere, providing us with nothing and really upsetting people and delaying a response," veteran LAFD dispatcher Robert Ashley told The Times.
—City News Service