LUMBERTON — Ambulances manned by Robeson County Emergency Medical Services personnel are getting to the aid of those in distress quicker than ever.
“The response time is the best it has ever been,” Robeson County Manager Ricky Harris said.
Greg Bounds, the county’s EMS director, said that average response time for “hot” calls in 2015 — those requiring ambulances to respond using lights and sirens — was 10.31 minutes. In 2014, the average “hot” call response time was 10.33 minutes. In 2008, the average response time was 14.62 minutes.
According to Bounds, the average response time for non-emergency calls — those not requiring lights and sirens — also has declined slightly. The average non-emergency response time is now about 13.5 minutes, he said.
In a report presented to the Robeson County Board of Commissioners during its annual retreat in April, Bounds said that his department answered 23,690 emergency calls during 2015. Another 9,475 calls were handled by the county’s volunteer rescue squads, he said.
The county’s EMS Department includes 68 full-time and 62 part-time employees. It has a fleet of 18 ambulances to serve the county’s 135,000 residents and its 951 square miles, the most in North Carolina.
“If it wasn’t for the rescue squads, we couldn’t do the job we do throughout the county,” Bounds said. “They are instrumental in helping us do our job in a county with so many square miles and such a large population.”
Nationally, the average EMS response time is about 9.4 minutes.
Bounds said that he attributes the decrease in response time to several factors. These include having 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 quick response vehicle that can provide paramedic assistance, but not transport patients to medical facilities; and use of the National Emergency Dispatch System, a system designed to dispatch ambulances to calls based on the severity of the emergency.
“As our population ages and grows we have to look at more ways to do things better,” Bounds said. “That’s just the way it is in the field of medicine. This is not something just the Robeson County Emergency Medical Services Department has to do. Hospitals, doctors, offices and other medical facilities have to identify and respond to changes. They all have to adapt.”
Brandon Stone, commander of South Robeson Rescue and EMS, located in Fairmont, said that local EMS units also are always looking for ways to reduce their response times.
Stone said that because there are EMS personnel on duty at his station during the hours ambulances are operating, ambulances can be rolling within a minute to 90 second from the time an emergency call is received.
“If the call is within the town, we can usually be on the scene within three minutes,” he said. “But if the call is out in the county near the South Carolina state line, it takes us 10 minutes.”
Stone said that he is currently operating one ambulance from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. seven days a week. Beginning Sept. 15, plans are to have the ambulance operating 24 hours a day.
To ensure a quick response to emergencies, it takes a close working relationship among EMS units, rescue squads and the county.
“A quick response is a team effort of fire, EMS and rescue squads,” Stone said. “At least in my area of the county we all work well together.”
According to Bounds, since he began working with Robeson County Emergency Medical Services 27 years ago, there have been significant changes in how the department responds to emergencies.
“When I first started working with EMS there were only two ambulances available at any one time, and none of them worked past seven at night,” he said. “Also, we didn’t have the National Dispatch System so that calls were answered not by degree of emergency, but by the order in which the calls were received.”
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.