Winston-Salem firefighters to only respond to life-threatening emergency 911 calls

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- As of July 1, Winston-Salem firefighters will only respond to 911 calls for medical assistance only for life-threatening medical conditions, such as cardiac arrest, electrocution, stroke, gunshots and other cases where the life of the patient may depend on a speedy response.

The changes come after the city's Citizens' Organizational Efficiency Review Committee and consultants studied the department's operations and saw that out of more than 20,000 medical calls last year, 13,000 were calls where firefighters did not even touch or assist the patient in any way.

Fire Chief Antony Farmer says his crews will assist Forsyth County EMS on calls where they can be most helpful.

"Those calls where we are dealing with people that have cardiac issues, major breathing issues, or trauma where have a lot of bleeding.  The kind of calls where firefighters can definitely be impactive," Farmer said.

“I want to assure our citizens that in any case where a person’s life is in jeopardy and Fire Department personnel can make a difference, we will respond,” Farmer said. “However, we also have an obligation to be good stewards of our resources.”

City estimates show that by reducing the amount of time trucks are used in non-emergency situations, the city could save close to $150,000 in gas and truck maintenance.

Also taking effect July 1, any address with more than 3 false calls, calls where there is no emergency and crews are not needed, will not receive a response for one year. There will be some exceptions to this rule, like situations where a new tenant or owner comes into a property.

Farmer says he also hopes this will improve emergency response times. Right now 65% of calls are responded to in under four minutes. Farmer says he thinks that will increase since trucks won't have to cover as many out of territory calls for trucks performing non-emergency responses.

Also taking effect July 1, the Fire Department will stop responding to places where citizens abuse the 911 system by calling for medical help when they are not sick or do not need emergency medical service. The department will not respond to those addresses after three false calls in a 12-month period. The department will resume response after 12 months. There will be exceptions, such as a case where a new tenant moves into a property where the previous resident violated the policy.

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