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Improvements Implimented In SD Dispatch Procedures

San Diego Fire-Rescue Department firefighters who answer to emergency medical calls could cut an average of a minute off their response times by implementing a procedural change, a city audit report released this week said.

The report found that sending pre-dispatch alerts to stations will get firefighters moving faster.

Firefighters are dispatched separately from ambulance crews and often arrive at a scene first, making their response times critical. The audit report cited a study that showed every minute of delay reduced a cardiac arrest victim's survival chances by about 10 percent.

In the SDFRD's current practice, an ambulance is dispatched to a medical aid call as soon as an address can be verified, according to the report. Call-takers ask more detailed questions before firefighters are dispatched.

The auditor's office suggested that if fire personnel were given a heads-up when the ambulance was sent out, they could shave an average of a minute off their response time.

The report said some stations have implemented the practice on their own. A captain monitoring incoming calls can spot the ones from their service area and alert firefighters that a dispatch was imminent. That way they could be geared up and in their trucks when the dispatch arrives.

SDFRD Chief Javier Mainar, in a letter to City Auditor Eduardo Luna, said he agreed with a pair of recommendations in the audit -- that the department implement the pre-dispatch alert procedure, and strengthen its monthly measurement and reporting of dispatch data.

"Fire-Rescue will change its medical incident dispatch procedures to include notification or assignment of the first responder unit at the same time as the ambulance," Mainar wrote. The change would take place sometime after July 1, after management discusses it with the firefighter's union, he said.

Mainar warned of some increases in operational costs, primarily from using fuel on calls that are canceled.

In the past fiscal year, firefighters were sent to 83,000 medical-aid calls in the city of San Diego, more than 80 percent of the total number of dispatches, the report said.

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