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Dallas Fire-Rescue Outlines Solution to Call Overload

DALLAS -- A Dallas Fire-Rescue proposal could affect when an ambulance charges through intersections with its lights flashing and sirens blaring and whether noncritical patients are transported to the hospital in an ambulance.

The plan released Monday spells out how Dallas Fire-Rescue intends to address the city's increasing emergency medical call load.

Its recommendations include the institution of a medical priority dispatch system, an alternative transportation program and a more in-depth screening process for recruits.

The proposal, known as the EMS Vision plan, will undergo a 30-day review by department employees and be presented to city officials and the public before it's finalized.

It was drafted in response to the department's mounting call load, which grew by nearly 20 percent between 1997 and 2005, the most recent year for which data were available.

Dallas Fire-Rescue Chief Eddie Burns said it's too early to say when or if the recommendations outlined in the proposal will be implemented, but he's confident the department is moving in the right direction.

"This is going to change how we do business in the city of Dallas," Chief Burns said.

After consulting several other city fire departments across the country, Dallas fire officials and EMS Vision work group members made recommendations based on what they considered the departments' "best practices."

Among those practices is a dispatch system to prioritize calls. All Dallas EMS calls are currently considered the same, so a patient in cardiac arrest has the same priority as a patient with a sprained ankle -- a practice the proposal called "not medically appropriate."

Also, noncritical patients currently taken to the hospital by ambulance could be transported by "multi-patient" vans, rather than ambulance, under the proposal.

The department may also implement new pre-employment testing.

Dallas applicants are already given a reading and math test, but potential candidates may also undergo an occupational and psychological test to help with the screening process.

Chief Burns said the proposal includes "good, solid recommendations" based on research that was done by members of the department.

"When we start adopting the industry's standards and best practices, that's how we move the department forward," he said.

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