Rural EMS can really suck sometimes

“Dispatch will be changing frequency to dispatch ambulance.”

As I hear those words I grab my boots and quickly slip into them and start running, carefully, down the stairs. I know from experience, quite painfully actually, that if I don’t pay attention while going down these stairs, I’ll wind up head first heading towards the floor. I quickly grab my steth and hat off the table where they lay after we got back from our last call.

“EMS, EMS, Ambulance requested in tiny south-county town. Called in as a difficulty breathing. Deputy is responding to scene,” The radio on my belt squawks. I stop and think about where exactly they’re sending us. I can’t recall that little town being on any of our response maps.

“EMS to PD Dispatch, copy call, clear page,” I say into my radio as I pull it from my belt. I head into the bay and hop into our rig. The senior medic I’m riding with is right behind me. We start the rig up and he flips the lights and siren on as well pull out of the parking bay.

“Hey, OldMan, where the hell are they sending us?” I yell over at my partner, while flipping through the map book trying to see where we’re headed to.

“It’s just north of SmallerTown. Usually their vollies will cover that area, guess they can’t raise anyone again, so we’re covering the county,” He tells me as he scans the road ahead and to his left as we blow through town. He gets on the radio to ask dispatch if the volunteers are responding at all.

“Negative on that, EMS. Volunteers are out of service today due to insufficient crew available. SO is sending a deputy out to assess the scene for you. He should be there in ten minutes.”

“Copy that. We have an ETA of 45 minutes to the scene,” my partner tells them, shaking his head in frustration.

The South Town Volunteers might only be BLS capable, but they could still make a difference in this call if it’s anywhere near serious. But since they are unstaffed, a common¬†occurrence¬†lately from what I’ve been told, the patient has to wait for our EMS service to show up. Since we are a paid department, and the only other EMS agency in the county, we are always staffed. Luckily.

We hit the highway once we’re out of town and OldMan gets on the gas for all he’s worth, trying to get there in time. It’s a long trip there, even running flat out with lights and sirens. Luckily it’s pretty much all flat and straight till we get into Tiny South-County Town.

“Dispatch to EMS, SO reports that the patient is not breathing and has no pulse. He is starting CPR.”

“Shit!” My partner curses in the radio’s general direction before picking up the mic. “Copy that dispatch, get EMS2 rolling once they get into station.”

“EMS2 to EMS1, copy direct,” The voice of the OldMans son comes back, since he is the on call lead today. “We’re rolling now.”

Thirty minutes still till we get to scene. No telling of how long the patient has been down. This could wind up not being fun at all. I just hang on and watch the terrain fly by to either side of us, keeping alert for cross streets so I can tell my partner if something looks like it’s gonna come out in front of us. I know what to do if we have to work a code, so I try to relax and just be ready.

As we pull up on scene I notice it’s a single family dwelling, with a slew of vehicles parked in front of it. This gives me a little hope that maybe we got called the minute something started to go wrong. There’s also a deputies truck parked in the driveway with it’s lights still twirling. I quickly glove up and grab the first-in bag from the side compartment behind me. I see my partner grab the cot first thing.

“There’s that working a moving code mentality again.” I think to myself.

We rush inside the residence and take a look. The deputy is in the middle of the floor of the living room with an AED attached to the victim, while performing CPR. I see a face mask there too, so it looks like he’s been doing everything right. Judging his compressions I see that they are good, solid, and deep. Perfect.

The OldMan has him stop and he does his quick assessment. By the way the body moves when we roll it, this person has been down a hell of a lot longer than 45 minutes. As we look at their back we notice lividity present as well. We both look at each other and shake our heads. As he talks to the family to get the story, he motions me to talk to the deputy to get his viewpoint since he got there.

The family is of course not happy with us when we do not continue CPR. They are mad at everyone, especially us, for how long it took their call to go through. It sounds like they tried calling the Small Town Volunteers station to try and get response from them for about a half hour before calling 911. They told the dispatcher that she wasn’t breathing. So why did we get paged out for difficulty breathing? Ya’ll know dispatchers as well as I do. Guess.

Apparently the family thought that calling the vollie station was just as good as calling 911. And they couldn’t figure how the station could be unstaffed in the middle of a weekday. They apparently weren’t happy finding out that the vollies have real jobs and don’t have the staff to maintain a crew 24/7. They were blaming us for taking so long to get there from town, even though it’s impossible to get there faster than we did.

The deputy said he got there and started CPR as soon as he checked for a pulse and got none. He never thought to look for rigor or lividity, but then again that’s not his job. I get some more information from the deputy for our report and watch as he goes to call the JP and make arrangements.

I meet up with my partner again after I finish loading the cot into our rig and put the bag back in the side compartment. As he sees I’m done putting things away he asks, “Still so happy to work in a system like this?”

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This is the first time working here in Rural Town, TX that I wanted to pull my hair out. I wonder if this will be the call that gets the county and my town to decide that our service needs to spread to cover the entire county and needs a station down south in Small Town. In a situation like this it might have made all the difference.