A race against time to save lives

2015-06-30 06:00

WITH 1 000 to 1 500 calls a day and several thousand patients transported daily across the province, paramedics also have to deal with hoax calls that put real patients in danger.

Car accidents, heart attacks, and assaults are just some of the incidents paramedics are called out to in a day, and sometimes when one paramedic has to attend to more than 10 patients in one night, the job can be overwhelming.

Talking to The Witness (Fever’s sister publication) on Friday night, KZN EMS spokesperson and advanced life support paramedic Robert McKenzie said there was a lot more that went into being a paramedic than people thought.

“We get 1 000 to 1 500 calls per day just in Durban and we transport up to 4 000 people per day in the province in emergencies and hospital transfers and transport to specialised clinics.”

He said there was a system to being called out and often people thought that when they called for an ambulance, the person who they spoke to over the phone would be the paramedic who would treat them, which was “never the case”.

“You can dial 10177 which will take you straight to the nearest EMS call centre. People who use their cellphones generally use 112, which is free.

“The 112 number will take you to a call centre in Johannesburg and then they will find out where you are and what service you need before putting you through to the relevant centre.”

He said the operators take patients’ calls and find out what the emergency is, “where it is, how many patients there are and if it’s an accident, how many cars, and how many people are injured”.

“The cases are logged by call takers then go through to dispatchers.

“Calls are not dispatched on a first-call-first-serve basis. The first call in does not necessarily mean it is the recipient of the first ambulance out.

“If we have 10 calls that come in, and one is a stab wound in the chest and one is a patient with a weak stomach, then we will attend to the stab wound first.”

McKenzie said the greatest task they were faced with was trying to reduce hoax calls, or calls from patients who did not have any serious ailments or injuries. “We have had patients who have called in for an abscess on their fingers or for eczema and they make it sound so serious.”

He said they had also been called out to a heart attack and when the paramedics arrived, the patient just wanted their blood sugar levels checked.

“People don’t realise that these less serious calls delay us from getting to the serious ones, with stab and gunshot wounds or major car accidents.”

He said another concern was people not giving proper directions to a scene which made it difficult for them to reach the patient as quickly as they could.

On Friday The Witness rode along with the KZN EMS advanced life support paramedics, who received five calls in a matter of hours. Ranging from assault, hit-and-runs to serious motor collisions, the team worked quickly and efficiently on patients who were sometimes unco-operative, before getting to the next scene.

“To run one ambulance efficiently you need eight paramedics on standby and three paramedics in one emergency vehicle,” said McKenzie

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