EMS reponse policy reviewed

Beating police to the scene of a crime

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Ambulance workers in Routt County may be a little over eager in their jobs, according to the sheriff's department.

Undersheriff Dan Taylor complained to the Routt County Communications Advisory Board last week that EMS workers were sometimes beating police and deputies to crime scenes and putting lives in danger.

"The ambulance people want to help, but we get there and the crime scene is gone," said Taylor.

"We don't know who's the victim and who's the criminal."

Taylor said the sheriff and Steamboat Springs Police Department have had five separate incidents in the last three months where guns were present at the scene of emergency calls.

In several cases, ambulance workers were on the scene before deputies, which caused some confusion.

"We don't respond well. We're pulling our guns trying to figure out who's who," Taylor said.

Taylor was addressing the group of city and county officials and EMS workers who help advise the 9-1-1 center.

"We had an ambulance pull up across the street within feet of someone with a gun," Taylor said about a case in Yampa.

Sheriff John Warner confirmed some of the incidents.

"The gentleman had an assault rifle in his hands when they pulled up," Warner said about one case.

"They should stay far enough away that the suspect can't get close to them."

A 9-1-1 supervisor told the advisory board that her dispatchers advise ambulances to stage a block away.

"If you want to change it to two blocks, let us know," said Communications Supervisor Sharon Clever.

Warner said law enforcement officers aren't blaming dispatchers, but said the message has to get down to the EMS workers who make the actual calls.

"We're going to further this at the EMS council," Warner said.

"We need a countywide policy or plan for the future."

The Steamboat Rural Ambulance Director Mel Stuart, whose service covers the city and the surrounding area, said he was not aware of any problem nor incidents involving his crews.

"I've been here four years and I can only think of two cases where we arrived on the scene before police," Stuart said.

In both cases Stuart said the calls were for medical calls that turned out to be assaults.

"We've got a good working relationship with the police chief and sheriff," Stuart said.

"If there's any issue, I hope we address it right away."

Stuart said if there's a question of safety, his crews are trained not to go in.

Bill Norris, who works with the Oak Creek EMS, said his crew has been guilty of violating the safety first rule, but sometimes it can't be helped.

He cited a case in Stagecoach where a call came in regarding a violent mental case and was told the sheriff's deputy would take 45 minutes to show up.

The ambulance had responded quickly to the scene but waited outside the home.

When the mental patient came out and started banging on the ambulance window the two EMS workers were befuddled.

"We looked at each other and said 'What should we do?'" EMT Bill Norris said.

"We let her in," Norris said.

Norris said the "safety first" rule meant his crew should have waited.

"But circumstances don't always go down like that," he said.

Norris said he will take the sheriff department's complaint to his ambulance workers, but he also said the county's 9-1-1 center has some kinks to work out as well.

He said, for example, that calls for gas leaks have to be answered by an ambulance as well as fire trucks, but the ambulances are almost never called to the scene.

Taylor said he would gladly go to the various fire districts in Routt County to talk personally with EMS workers about a safety policy for ambulance workers.

"We have ambulance people thinking on their own," Taylor said. "We're going to get someone hurt."

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