I know that my 7.5 years pales in comparison to many of those that are on the Job currently, but I feel like I have seen my share of “emergencies” in this time. What constitutes an emergency though?
Merriam-Webster defines an emergency as “an unforeseen combination of circumstances or the resulting state that calls for immediate action”.
We’ve all been there – 2am, at the nursing home for “unusual labs” but the patient states they don’t really want to be transported – but their Doc says they have to. Yea, it gets frustrating, especially when they’ve had the labs for the past 18 hours and are just now calling us, but I’m not physician. Hell, I haven’t even finished college. I can read, and can see what the lab report says, but that doesn’t mean I would truly understand what it means. The other portion of this side of the spectrum are the patients who have a broken nail (I have been dispatched to a call for a broken finger nail). We get these calls from years of telling patients “We’re here for you, calls us if you need us” or similar statements. We are here for the public, but phrases like these lead to over worked 911 systems. I’ve been told by a close friend that a large metropolitan area (not in VA) that utilizes a priority/triage based system of receiving and dispatching emergency calls. This method of dispatching helps to ensure that the most critical patients receive the most appropriate care as fast a possible, while more stable patients receive it as units are available. Now, I’m not familiar with this set up personally, so if someone has personal knowledge of it, please let me know.
What really brings this question to mind tonight isn’t the overworked EMS system, but the fact that I received a phone call the other evening from a family friend about an odor of gas in her house. She was calling me because her husband was out of town and she knows I’m a firefighter. Well, I was at work so there wasn’t much I could do for her personally. My response was simple – get out and call 911. Sure, it may just be a pilot light out, or something arbitrary like that, but why risk it? She wasn’t too keen on calling 911. As a firefighter with access to gas monitors and PPE, the odor of gas isn’t as great a concern to me. But for an average person it should be considered an emergency. Same as a CO detector going off should be an emergency (unless its a low battery alert which is a different noise from an alarm).
I have met more people on fire service calls apologizing for calling 911 and having us come out than any other call type. I look at it from the stand point that if you call because your CO detector is going off, or you have an odor of smoke or gas then calling us is a preventative measure. Similar to going and getting a yearly physical. Why put yourself at risk? We are here to serve the citizens, tax-paying or otherwise.
The public calls on us - Firefighters, EMTs, Medics – to come and assist them with something that they perceive to be an emergency, whether we see it as such or not is a different matter.
What is an emergency? Who decides?