Report lists neighborhoods with slowest ambulance response

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SAN DIEGO — Where you live in the city of San Diego affects how quickly emergency response teams can bring help when you need it, according to a grand jury report released Tuesday.

ambulanceThe report by the 2013/14 San Diego County grand jury identifies five areas in the city with the longest emergency response times: Home Avenue in City Heights, Paradise Hills, the College area, Skyline and Encanto.

“I think it was pretty well catalouged in a 2011 report commissioned by Mayor Sanders,” said Chief Javier Mainar, San Diego Fire Department Chief.

Chief Mainar said the report has identified anything new and that there are actually 19 neighborhoods with service gaps.

“It’s just a reaffirmation that there are challenges in the city that have really accrued over the decades and it’s going to take time to dig ourselves out of the hole,” said Chief Mainar.

According to the report, the lag in response time is the net result of delaying the construction of new fire stations as the city grew from a relatively small city to a major metropolitan area, and by the city’s contract with its ambulance provider, Rural/Metro.

Mainar said there are plans to build two new fire stations and the department is also getting ready to test out a new concept called Fast Response Squads.

“Something as small as a two person pick-up truck might do well to reduce response time there as additional resources are rolling in,” said Chief Mainar.  “It’s a matter of allocating funding to slowly but surely kick off and fill in those gaps.”

The grand jury also found the contract with Rural/Metro requires ambulances to respond to all 911 calls without assessing the nature of the emergency.   Only about 15 percent of incoming 911 calls are real emergencies, according to the grand jury report.

“It’s one that is not entirely accurate in my perspective,” said the Chief.  “About 85 percent of the medical calls we receive are deemed to be life threatening.”

The grand jury recommends that the city develop a better protocol for screening emergency calls to separate serious emergencies from those of a trivial nature. The city should also modify its contract with Rural/Metro to allow more flexibility in its responses to the calls, according to the report.

Training citizens living in the areas with slow response times in the use of CPR, and placing automatic external defibrillators in many easily accessible public venues, would also improve outcomes for those in need of medical intervention in those areas, the panel found.

Those recommendations could be undertaken by the city alone, or in collaboration with nonprofit organizations such as the American Red Cross and the American Heart Association, as well as local community colleges offering nursing and other medical training, the report says.

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