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Taking the Hassle out of Local 911 Services

In response to recent troubles with Tuscaloosa’s emergency medical response system, city officials are looking into consolidating the various 911 communication systems in the city and county.

In June, a communication error between the ambulance company American Medical Response and the Tuscaloosa County Sheriff’s Office may have resulted in the death of a 15-year-old near Lake Tuscaloosa. According to the Tuscaloosa News, AMR failed to contact TCSO after receiving a call from Tuscaloosa police regarding the subject having a seizure. Contacting TCSO would have allowed a sheriff’s office dispatcher to cut response time by sending volunteer firefighters, who were a short distance from the patient’s house.

On July 26, another response issue took place outside of city limits, with poor external communication to blame. Volunteer firefighters in the Abernant area called a medical examiner to declare an unresponsive patient dead. This was done without contacting their dispatcher at TCSO, and without the consent of the Tuscaloosa City Fire Department, who is required to be on scene to make the decision of calling to declare a subject deceased anywhere in the county.

With issues like these in mind, the city and county are working together to consolidate Tuscaloosa, Northport and county EMS dispatch systems by placing them in a central location. According to Mayor Walt Maddox, this consolidation would make communication smoother between the systems that already work and respond together.

“I think what happened [June 27] highlights the need for a review of standard operating procedures and probably justifies revisiting the entire issue of whether a consolidated dispatching system is in the best interest of this community,” Maddox said (Taylor, 2008).

Combining EMS communications into one system is a worthwhile consideration from a public relations perspective. For the emergency responders, doing so would result in fewer transferred calls, as well as increased awareness of what is happening in the county among the different areas of jurisdiction.

The consolidation would also serve to ease the minds of external publics. Many of the people who call 911 for emergencies don’t realize how many communication centers their call information may go to. Creating a central Tuscaloosa County dispatch office would help make 911 into the single, smoothly running entity that callers expect it to be.

Taylor, S. (2008, July 3). “Officials study 911 overhaul.” Tuscaloosa News. Retrieved July 24, 2008, from
Phone conversations with Northstar EMS and Abernant volunteers (2008, July 26).

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