Brian Coddington

Sharing Solutions Across the Nation

Brian Coddington, Communications Director, No Phone Number Available

Wednesday, August 26, 2015 at 2:22 p.m.

Sharing Solutions Across the Nation

Less than a year ago, representatives from the Tuscaloosa Fire & Rescue Service in Tuscaloosa, Ala., visited the Spokane Fire Department to learn about our new programs aimed at dealing with the increasing number of non-emergency medical calls coming to the fire service.

They came to learn about SFD's:

  • CARES program that connects Eastern Washington University social work students with patients that may benefit from assistance from local social services.
  • Alternative Response Unit (ARU) pilot program that sends smaller vehicles to non-emergency medical calls.

Tuscaloosa, says Deputy Chief Chris Williamson, is experiencing the same growth in medical calls as Spokane and other cities across the nation. “With a large number of our calls being medical and a large number of those being what we'd call low-level emergencies, we needed to change,” Williamson says.

Armed with ideas from Spokane and other cities, including Mesa, Ariz.,Tuscaloosa put its first ARU into service on Dec. 15. Since then, it has responded to about 1,400 calls. The single-person unit is active between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. daily. The unit saves wear and tear on larger fire engines and uses less fuel, Willliamson says. But most importantly, sending an ARU doesn't tie up a fire engine, allowing it to be available for more serious calls, he says.

Tuscaloosa's ARU has been so successful that the department plans on adding a second unit next month and is looking at using the units 24 hours a day. But first, they want to make sure they've fine-tuned the type of calls that the units should be dispatched to during the night-time hours.

Meanwhile, Tuscaloosa also is proceeding with a partnership with the University of Alabama's School of Social Work to start a program that connects citizens with additional social services. Williamson says the first students will begin working with his department in January. The photo memorializes a recent visit between university and department officials.

What's next for Tuscaloosa?  Williamson says the department is exploring enhancing its relationship with the local hospital. It may make sense in the future to “reinstitute the house call,” where more comprehensive medical services come to the patient, he says.

“All communities are seeing these trends,” says Williamson. With limitations on resources available to provide emergency medical services, communities need to deploy those resources differently, he says.

And, the Spokane Fire Department is helping to lead the way.

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