It may be cliche, but it is also undeniably true: In matters of life and death, every second — particularly those saved — can make the difference between a happy outcome and a tragic one.
We need to look no further than 11 days ago when a 22-year-old man drowned at the lake at Luther Britt Park. While rescue people worked frantically for as many as 15 minutes to get the man breathing again, they were unsuccessful, and his wife is now a widow and other family and friends are grieving.
That case was notable because it made some headlines, but every day in this vast county, which is at once blessed and cursed by hundreds of miles of major highway, there are rescue efforts that either fail or succeed depending almost entirely on how quickly help arrives.
That is what makes wonderful the news that personnel with Robeson County Emergency Medical Services are now reaching those in need of medical help faster than ever before. According to Greg Bounds, the county’s EMS director, average response time for “hot” calls in 2015 — those requiring ambulances to respond using lights and sirens — was 10.31 minutes, slightly quicker than the 10.33 minutes the year before. While that might seem insignificant, the time is almost 5 minutes quicker than in 2008, so the gains have been impressive — and, without question, life-saving.
Bounds said the average response time for non-emergency calls — those not requiring lights and sirens — also improved, and was 13.5 minutes during 2015.
Bounds gave the following reasons for the better response times: 10 ambulances on the road at any one time, with another ambulance available during peak daytime hours Mondays through Thursdays; having ambulances based throughout the county; volunteer rescue squad ambulances from Lumberton, Pembroke and Red Springs manned with paramedics; a rapid-response vehicle that can provide paramedic assistance, but not transport patients to medical facilities; and use of the National Emergency Dispatch System, a system that dispatches ambulances based on the severity of the emergency.
The county still trails the average EMS response time nationally, which is about 9.4 minutes. But Robeson County, with 951 square miles, is the largest county in North Carolina, so rescue personnel, even when strategically positioned, routinely face long drives to reach people who are in need of help.
The improved response time makes future improvements more difficult to achieve, but we have no doubt that Bounds and the county’s 68 full-time and 62 part-time EMS employees will continue that effort. It is critical that they do as EMS and volunteer rescue squads among them responded to a staggering average of 90 calls a day during 2015, a number that will climb.
These people truly are unsung heroes, seldom receiving the attention they deserve except — unfairly — when something goes awry and criticism follows. They don’t ask for thanks, but we will extend it today, even if it is woefully short of being adequate appreciation for the live-saving efforts they perform routinely and with great haste.