Sheriff: Average EMS response times do not tell whole story

BY ZACH SPADT

Guardian Ambulance may respond to calls more quickly than its predecessor on average, but average response times don’t tell the whole story, according to Big Horn County Sheriff Ken Blackburn.

According to recently released data, Atwood Ambulance took 12 minutes and 57 seconds to respond to calls on average whereas Guardian takes 8 minutes and 13 seconds.

But the average response times only show a small part of the equation and don’t account for other discrepancies with Guardian’s service, Blackburn said.

“One Hyattville call, one Shell call, one call on the mountain could throw those numbers off,” Blackburn said. “If I were doing this statistic right, I would take all the calls from 10 miles, 20 miles, 30 miles and compare like calls to like calls.

“I admonish the public to be very careful with this information.” Response times were not taken from the same time of year, either, with Guardian’s calls coming from November 2017 through today and Atwood’s coming from January – June of the same year. The data concerns 170 calls involving Atwood and 141 with Guardian.

“That’s a 29-call discrepancy, which may work for or against either side,” Blackburn said. “There has been no research on this for individual calls.” Last year’s winter was significantly worse than this year, which could skew average response times, said Blackburn. He added that first responders also dealt with significant ice jams and radio issues during Atwood’s time period. In addition, he said it doesn’t reflect other growing pains Guardian has experienced.

Blackburn said he is not particularly concerned about response times as much as he is with other issues such as having a fully staffed EMT crew and having an ambulance available at all times.

Basin Police Chief Chris Kampbell agreed.

“The issue isn’t necessarily the response times,” Kampbell said. “It’s the lack of coverage to facilitate what patients need.” If Guardian is on a call in another town, Basin is left without an ambulance service. So far that hasn’t happened, but it’s only a matter of time, said Kampbell.

As Blackburn and Kampbell discussed the issue Monday, Guardian Ambulance was on the scene of vehicle accident a couple miles east of Shell. During that time, Guardian was unavailable to respond to a potential call in Basin.

“As we speak, there is an ambulance in Shell and they’re working,” Blackburn said. “There needs to be backup coverage in the community should a call come in during the time that they’re down.” In other instances, law enforcement officers have been pulled away from regular duties to help staff the ambulance. The Big Horn Count Sheriff’s Office will typically receive a phone call from a Guardian staff member, saying they only have one EMT on shift, Blackburn said. A sheriff’s deputy will then staff the ambulance as a driver, he said.

Basin police officers have also been asked to drive the ambulance.

In a county that’s larger than some states, that stretches the sheriff’s office alarmingly thin, the sheriff added.

Kampbell is working with local agencies to provide some sort of first-response backup should Guardian be unavailable. Blackburn said he has made first-aid trained deputies available to Kampbell and is having others take advanced first aid.

One comment

  1. Atwood EMTs were also volunteers who were on call, responding from home and work – not a paid service stationed where they should be ready to respond immediately.

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