Portland city leaders considering more effective way to dispatch - KPTV - FOX 12

Portland city leaders considering more effective way to dispatch firefighters

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A change could be coming to the way Portland firefighters respond to calls, and city leaders say it may save lives.

Right now, the vast majority of calls dispatched to firefighters are not actually for fires, but for medical situations. While some of them are life-threatening, many are not.

According to a resolution approved by city commissioners, 911 medical calls have risen by 34 percent over the last five years, and 80 percent of those calls receive a response by both “a fire apparatus” and an ambulance.

The concern is that emergency resources are not being used as effectively as they could be, and firefighters responding to a non-emergency may be tied up when a real emergency happens.

In Wednesday’s city council session, the head of the Portland Firefighters Association, the union which represents employees of Portland Fire and Rescue, recounted a recent example in which a crew from North Portland was dispatched to the southwest part of the city to help a patient move from one bed to another, a call he said they did not need to be on.

Mayor Ted Wheeler and city commissioners agreed to look into a more sophisticated and “robust medical dispatch triage” system which would automatically prioritize dispatch calls and better utilize emergency resources.

Portland Firefighters Association President Alan Ferschweiler told FOX 12 he’s hesitant to sign on, adding that he didn’t even know commissioners were considering the change and that he believes the fire bureau and union need to be partners at the table as a new system is developed.

“Our opposition is not against the program,” Ferschweiler explained. “We want to go on less calls. We think we are overworked and we have too many calls. It’s about doing it right and making sure the right people are there.”

Wheeler apologized to Ferschweiler for not including the union in early talks and said the oversight was not intentional.

While the details of how a new system would work haven’t been settled, various groups will work together to evaluate options in hopes of having a system in place by 2018.

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