By MIRANDA BAINES
THE DAILY SOUTHERNER
In an emergency situation, every second counts, and each second can seem painstakingly long.
Such was the case on the morning of July 28, when Pinetops resident Willa Glass placed a call to 911 at 8:56:32 a.m.
“I told them my husband (Elijah) had a bad headache and I needed a rescue squad to come pick him up,” Glass said. “My husband doesn’t have headaches. He was holding his head, and that’s unusual.”
At 9:10:42 a.m., about 14 minutes later, Glass called back to cancel the rescue call.
“It took them too long,” she said. “If I waited for them, my husband could’ve died.”
As a result of Glass’ cancellation of the call, the rescue unit started turning around in the driveway of a neighbor’s home.
Glass later filed a complaint about the squad, and Squad Chief Andrew Coccaro responded in a letter, which said the crew offered assistance to Glass in the neighbor’s driveway, but she declined.
In a letter to the editor dated Sept. 11, Glass wrote that the female responder on the call told her, “He just had a headache, so we took our time.”
“I would never have expected them to say that to me,” Glass later said in an interview with The Daily Southerner.
Coccaro also wrote that the crew reported Lt. Fredda Davis told Glass that day, “Ma’am, it was dispatched as a Code One non-emergency headache,. We came as soon as we could.”
Glass ended up driving her husband to the Vidant Edgecombe Emergency Room that day. She said a CT scan determined Elijah had had an aneurism and he was airlifted to Vidant Medical Center in Greenville for emergency treatment, Glass said.
Glass said doctors told her twice that day that her husband was not going to survive.
“They called him ‘miracle man’ at the hospital,” she said. “He’s doing fine (now), thank God.”
In her letter to the editor, Glass wrote, “When 911 is called, it should be treated as an emergency always. You never know when it is a person on their death bed.”
Coccaro said, “Every call’s important to us; we want to get there as quickly as we can. You never truly know what that patient has going on until you assess that patient.”
Per the rescue squad’s contract, they’ll be on the scene in 12 minutes or less once the pager goes off, whether it’s an emergency or non-emergency call, Coccaro said.
“We shoot for being there within eight minutes. We do that 98 percent of the time,” Coccaro said.
Glass’ call was dispatched to the squad at 8:59:32, according to Sheriff James Knight, whose department oversees the functions of the 911 call center. The squad responded at 9:01:44 a.m. and Medic 41 was en route at 9:01:45 a.m. Between the time of the dispatch and the squad’s response, Knight said the “dispatcher was relaying details of the call to EMS and they were most likely loading into the ambulance to respond en route to the call.”
Nine minutes passed between the time the unit was dispatched to the location of Glass’ call – 768 N.C. 42/43 East, which is 3.8 miles from Station 4 in Pinetops, and Glass’ cancellation of the call and subsequent arrival of the unit at the neighbor’s home. Coccaro determined in his investigation that the crew responded in an “appropriate time frame for the dispatch code.”
The squad receives a response code from the 911 center, Coccaro said. If the response code is emergency, the rescue squad turns on the siren and the lights and proceeds to the location of the call. If the response code is non-emergency, the rescue unit proceeds without turning on the lights or siren and must obey all traffic laws.
Glass’ perception of the response time on the day of her emergency call was 45 minutes, according to the letter of response to her complaint.
EMS coordinator Mark Walters said the response time for those in emergency situations often seems much longer than it actually is.
“You can take every minute and triple it, is what people feel,” Walters said.
Every time a call comes in to the 911 center, the center uses Emergency Medical Dispatch System protocol.
“Once a medical complaint is entered, the program provides pre-determined questions to ask the caller. Once all questions have been asked and answered the program will determine the response code (i.e. emergency or non-emergency response),” Knight said. “This program is an internationally recognized system and is utilized by the majority of NC 911 Centers.”
“Once they get done with that process, they’re going to activate the pagers. They’re going to give us the location of the call, they’re going to tell us the nature of the call, and they’re going to give a response code (emergency or non-emergency),” Coccaro said. “Once that happens, our crew has 60 seconds to be en route.”
Walters’ advice to 911 callers is to listen to the questions emergency dispatchers are asking and to answer “as truthfully as you can.” ”What they’re asking could mean the difference of the outcome,” Walters said. “They start to get a picture of what they’re walking into. They’ll know pretty much what they need to carry in when they get there.”
For a rural rescue unit, the squad stays busy.
The rescue squad responds to 40 to 60 calls every day and will respond to an estimated 16,000 calls this year, said.
“For six trucks, that’s a busy day,” Coccaro said. “We have a lot of area and a lot of it’s rural.”
Walters said the area is 525 square miles.
Because of the size of the squad’s coverage area, the squad has a “staging policy,” meaning if a lone truck at the Pinetops station is dispatched to a call, a truck from another station will be moved to that station to make sure the area is covered.
“Our goal is to have a truck in each area at all times,” Cocarro said.
The squad has four stations – Tarboro, Pinetops, Meadowbrook Road in Rocky Mount and Whitakers.
Once on the scene of a call, emergency rescue personnel begin treating the patient immediately and continue treatment in route to the hospital.
“We’re a little rolling ER, so we can fix you along the way,” Cocarro said. “We can start them on that treatment plan early enough that the hospital isn’t behind that eight-ball…we do everything the hospital does for cardiac arrest.”
When Cocarro joined the squad in November 2012, the cardiac arrest save rate was 12 percent. As of Tuesday, that rate was 38 percent, and Cocarro’s goal is to keep improving save rates.
“There’s no such thing as good enough,” he said.