Yakima Fire no longer sending trucks to every EMS call

YAKIMA, Wash. -- You might notice a change the next time you call 911 here in Yakima. Dispatchers are no longer automatically sending fire trucks on calls for medical emergencies. It's part of a new program that started this week. Dispatchers will gauge the severity of a call and make the crucial decision on who needs to be sent.

It's the Yakima Fire Department's way of being more efficient with equipment and manpower. The deputy chief said trucks and firefighters need to be saved for critical emergencies.

"If we run those on every bloody nose or foot pain call that we have and I'm not trying to push fun of that, but we wear them out," said Yakima Fire Deputy Chief Bob Stewart.

A three-month pilot program in 2011 found only sending an ambulance to EMS calls was more efficient. Now, the department's following up by implementing its Criteria Based EMS Dispatch program this week. Calls deemed to be routine won't get a response from firefighters.

Peg Braden called 911 when her husband fell.

"It seemed like I had anywhere from five to seven people in my house at the time and that seems like an awful lot of people for one call," said Peg.

Peg said she trusts dispatchers to send more people if needed. A handbook outlines the rules to help determine whether an emergency call is critical.

"What if fire is needed and you guys don't send them right away and then it's too late?" KIMA asked.
"Too late for what?" asked Bob.
"To save the person who called," said KIMA.
"Alright, well that's what I'm trying to say," said Bob. "If there's some concern then we're over deploying. We're sending everyone."

The fire department said if dispatchers only send an ambulance and then realize more help is needed, the nearest fire truck will be sent to the scene. A change to save money while still saving lives.

The Yakima Fire Department said 76 percent of emergency calls only require paramedics.