More concerns surface over HFD's response plan

November 4, 2011 7:58:12 AM PDT
In an exclusive interview, a Houston firefighter and crash victim say the city's new emergency response plan is putting lives at risk. Their accusations come as the fire chief is investigating the response to an accident in which a preschooler was killed. We've learned he's already ordered a change to the new policy.

The policy has been heavily criticized since the Kingwood preschooler died two weeks ago. Now, not only is a senior citizen coming forward with her story of having to wait for an ambulance while she suffered serious injuries, but a firefighter is speaking out on what he says is a potentially dangerous policy.

It's been a tough six months for 72-year-old Mattie Noble. She was T-boned at a northwest Houston intersection. Her was neck broken, but only a fire truck was initially dispatched and once on scene, the crew then had to call for an ambulance.

"Once the firefighters had pried your door open, was the ambulance already on scene waiting?" we asked Noble.

"No, no! They got the door open before ambulance arrived," she replied.

Noble's accident on August 4 was just four days into a new policy of the Houston Fire Department called All Hazards Response, which no longer sends an ambulance to low-level calls.

But at least one firefighter, who didn't want to be publicly identified, is sounding an alarm that it could put lives at risk.

"What's the problem with this policy?" we asked the firefighter.

"We can stabilize the patient. We are all EMTs, but they also need to have a fire truck and an ambulance to respond at the same time because if a patient is critical, they need a load-and-go situation and they need to get to the hospital as soon as possible," he replied.

Under the HFD's old policy, a fire truck and ambulance would be sent. But Fire Chief Terry Garrison says All Hazards Response is getting trained EMTs on the scene quicker than before, stabilizing a patient while an ambulance is then dispatched.

"We feel like it's better for us with this new deployment model to get them on the scene rapidly, start assessing the patients and have the ambulance come en route when they need an ambulance," Garrison said.

But the firefighter says this new All Hazards Response is jeopardizing valuable transport time.

"It seems like some of the serious calls, things are slipping through the cracks. There have been some calls that we have been on that needed a transport unit on scene, not a fire truck," the firefighter said.

As we previously reported, the new All Hazards Response came under scrutiny two weeks ago on October when a Kingwood preschooler was accidentally run over by her mother and all that was initially dispatched was a fire truck.

Since then, Chief Garrison has ordered a change in policy effective this past Tuesday. Now all fire trucks en route to a scene can call for an ambulance as they are receiving more information about accident, instead of waiting to arrive on scene. As to why an ambulance was not initially dispatched to the Kingwood incident is still under investigation and the Houston fire Department has no idea when it will be complete.

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