SPOKANE, Wash. -It's the first thing most people think to do in an emergency: Just dial 9-1-1 and within seconds you're connected with a call-receiver who's ready to send you help.
But in Spokane County, more calls come in from the West Central neighborhood than anywhere else, and emergency responders say they're not always needed.
The problem can tie-up emergency responders and create a headache for hospitals.
“It's not only backing the 9-1-1 system, but it's also impacting the hospital emergency departments,” said Integrated Health Services Manager for the Spokane Fire Department, Mike Lopez. “Sprains, strains, those kinds of things Maybe it's more important to contact your primary care physician.”
Lopez says adding to the problem are people who dial 9-1-1 so much that they're on a first name basis.
“It's not uncommon to have an individual access the healthcare system 15 to 20 times a month,” said Lopez.
In an effort to avoid sending a full-blown emergency response to these callers, Lopez says they manage those individuals who utilize the 9-1-1 system more than others by responding in an Alternative Response Unit, a large SUV staffed with an EMT and paramedic.
“Make contact with them,” said Lopez. “Make sure they're interested in us doing what we can to provide them with resources they need.”
It frees up other emergency crews to go to actual emergencies.