Until now, when Gloucester callers dialed 911 with a medical emergency, the call was answered by Gloucester police, who forwarded it to the Fire Department, which runs the city's ambulance squads and would dispatch a crew.
That changed Thursday, when the city implemented new state emergency medical dispatch standards, less than two weeks before the deadline.
Rather than transferring a caller to the Fire Department, a police dispatcher is now verbally walking a caller through the medical emergency, while another dispatcher on the same call would have already sent paramedics on their way.
City public safety officials say the system, which revolves around three dispatchers on duty at all times, with two fielding each call, will provide quicker response times and be a better service for residents.
In the old system, said Police Chief Michael Lane, an officer would answer the 911 call, and take down names, type of emergency, where it happened — and then transfer the call to the Fire Department. The Fire Department's dispatcher would ask the same questions, and then send an ambulance. The caller then waits for police and paramedics to arrive.
"It wasn't one continuous event," he said.
Under the new system, the first dispatcher stays on the line with the caller, while the second dispatcher contacts the Fire Department. If someone's choking, for instance, the dispatcher will work the caller through the Heimlich maneuver, and can stay on the line until either an officer or a paramedic arrives.
"The call ends when a paramedic gets on scene," said Police Lt. John McCarthy
McCarthy led the department's effort to adopt the standards. The department was trained in March and April, he said. The city paid for the training through a $155,000 state grant.
With the new standards in place, the Police Department is building a new dispatch room with $180,000 in money seized through drug arrests and other cases.
Gloucester isn't alone in changing how it handles emergency medical calls, McCarthy said. Most of the country runs this kind of dispatch. Massachusetts came late to the party.
The state wrote the emergency medical dispatch regulations into law this year, and gave cities and towns until July 1 to comply. The regulations, he said, affect whomever receives 911 calls, and for Gloucester, that's the Police Department.
"It's a better way to dispatch," said Sander Shultz, the city's emergency medical services coordinator. "It gets us (paramedics) more comprehensive information on the injured or sick party prior to arrival."
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 978-283-7000 x3455 or email@example.com. Follow him @gdtnews on Twitter.