Our Opinion: Diagnosing false alarms without delaying emergencies

News Tribune editorial

The Cole County Commission is not attempting medical diagnoses, it is trying to prevent misuse of the ambulance system it operates.

The three-member county governing body voted 2-1 in late January to begin enforcing a regulation that permits billing landlords or property owners when ambulances respond to false alarms by tenants.

We were somewhat alarmed by the decision.

We are aware of and have been involved in incidents which we considered a medical emergency. A 911 call was placed, an ambulance was dispatched and EMTs responded. The apparent emergency, however, was misidentified by laymen and transport by medically trained personnel was not required.

Could this be construed as a false alarm?

Cole County Presiding Commissioner Marc Ellinger assures us such an incident would not be deemed a false alarm.

Furthermore, he encourages county residents to call 911 and summon an ambulance whenever they believe a medical emergency is occurring.

What the commission is attempting to address, he explained, is reducing costly false alarms, largely linked to Housing Authority properties where pull cords in apartments are used to summon ambulances.

Commissioners acted after hearing a report that false alarms accounted for 51 percent of the emergency calls from Dulle Tower, a Housing Authority property, during a three-year period. The county’s estimated cost of an ambulance call is $400.

Ellinger said false alarms include instances where: the tenant accidentally pulls the cord and the ambulance en route is advised to disregard the call; the tenant reports the cord was pulled by a curious young visitor, frequently a nephew, niece or grandchild; or no one answers when EMTs respond to the scene.

Housing Authority officials now are working to address the problem, and the commission has agreed to suspend billing for 60 days.

The county ambulance service is a taxpayer-supporter system and the problem of false alarms deserves to be addressed.

Any discussion of false alarms, however, must not discourage, or even delay, people from calling 911 if they believe a medical emergency is occurring.

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