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Sheriff Defends 911 Response Time in Maine

LEWISTON, Maine -- It took under eight minutes for an ambulance to arrive at a Livermore Falls (Maine) home after a 911 emergency medical call for a man was made in January, according to times presented by police to selectmen Monday.

The ambulance arrived about five minutes after the crew was alerted, according to reports from Androscoggin County Sheriff Guy Desjardins and Livermore Falls police Chief Ernest Steward Jr.

A 911 emergency medical call must be handled by a state-certified emergency dispatch center under a new law governing the 911 system. The county dispatch center in Auburn is the safety answering point center that takes calls for Livermore Falls and Livermore.

But Livermore Falls dispatchers handle the ambulance service for those towns.

There is a delay of one to two minutes while the county dispatcher goes through emergency medical protocol, asking the caller questions about the patient's condition, before it connects with Livermore Falls to send the ambulance, Desjardins said. County dispatchers are able to alert ambulance services at the same time they are getting medical information.

Livermore Falls plans to get its center certified for medical calls to minimize delays.

The original 911 call to Auburn in January on the man down came in at 4:15 p.m. and 20 seconds, Desjardins said.

The 911 call times and Livermore Falls call logs differ by seconds because two different clocks were used. The 911 system breaks the call time down to seconds while Livermore Falls uses whole numbers.

A county dispatcher put the 911 caller on hold at 4:16 and seven seconds to alert Livermore Falls dispatch to send an ambulance then continued taking medical information from the caller. The Livermore Falls dispatcher sent the ambulance and an officer out at 4:17 by 911 time and 4:18 by Livermore Falls. The ambulance crew signed enroute at 4:19.

The first Livermore Falls officer arrived at 4:20 and started cardiopulmonary resuscitation at 4:21. The ambulance arrived at 4:23 and an off-duty officer arrived at 4:30, followed by a second ambulance at 4:34, Desjardins said.

The county's call terminated with the 911 caller at 4:20 and 12 seconds, when a person on the line is heard saying the ambulance had arrived, Desjardins said, which was confirmed by Steward and county Captain Ray Lafrance.

Resident Richard Korhonen said he didn't believe the times they reported and claimed it took much longer.

"I wish I could let you listen to the tape," Desjardins said, but the information is confidential by law and only certain people may listen.

Desjardins said a third-party audit could be requested with only times being reported out or someone could try to get a court order to hear that specific 911 call.

In two other calls, Desjardins said in one instance a telephone number was coded by the telephone company as being on Church Street in Livermore instead of Livermore Falls. In the other a caller had her portable home phone with her and was away from her residence when she called 911.

Addresses and locations show up on county dispatcher's screens by the telephone number entered into the system.

One person asked that county dispatchers learn the difference between the communities of Livermore and Livermore Falls to avoid delay in service.

Desjardins said 911 tapes are reviewed and used for dispatcher training.

Desjardin said he would look into another complaint registered with selectmen Monday about the length of time it took for an ambulance to arrive.

NorthStar Emergency Medical Services Director David Robie, who oversees the region's ambulance service, said the average response time in the Livermore Falls area is eight minutes, two seconds.

Both Lafrance and Desjardins said based on the Livermore Falls dispatch record, the response time is very good. On rural patrol, Lafrance said response time is 15 to 20 minutes.

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