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Riverside, Calif., Gets Emergency Medical Dispatch Program

RIVERSIDE, Calif. -- The first medical call to the city of Riverside's 911 center last week came from a person who thought he was suffering a heart attack.

The dispatcher sized up the emergency, sent paramedics and then read instructions to the victim from a computer screen.

Since Dec. 20, Riverside has received 104 calls to its new service that provides assistance in medical emergencies, said program coordinator John Peurifoy, who is also one of Riverside's fire engineers.

The standardized program, called Emergency Medical Dispatch, is used nationally and in 22 countries. The first version was launched in 1978 after a paramedic in Phoenix gave cardiopulmonary resuscitation instructions over the phone to the family of a child who was found unconscious in a swimming pool.

Here's how it works:

The dispatcher enters the type of call such as CPR, childbirth, seizures, severe bleeding and diabetic episodes into the computer. Based on the victim's age, gender and problem, scripted instructions from health professionals aim to ease the crisis until medics arrive.

Since the Riverside service began, dispatchers have given instructions on neck and shoulder pain, breathing difficulties, uncontrollable shaking and severe stomach pain, Peurifoy said. "It gives us the opportunity to help them, to increase their chances of survival before paramedics or an ambulance arrives," he said.

Thirty-seven dispatchers have been certified to work in the call center in the basement of the Riverside Police Department, Peurifoy said. The next training course, which starts in February, includes learning the computer program, reading medical journals and riding with paramedics.

Corona uses a different but similar program to provide emergency medical services to callers, but both Riverside and Corona dispatchers send a paramedic to every caller.

The San Bernardino Fire Department is the only Inland emergency services agency that weighs the urgency of medical-aid calls and decides whether to send a paramedic or just an emergency medical technician.

Reach Laurie Lucas at 951-368-9569 or llucas@PE.com

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