Support grows for central ambulance dispatch in Erie County

Rural Metro Regional Director: "We would absolutely participate"

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – There’s no central dispatch for ambulances in Erie County.

Some towns do it on their own while others like the city of Buffalo rely on the county.

But does it make sense to centralize such a critical function? And what would take to make that happen?

Erie County has a very complicated system of answering emergency medical calls.

There are 25 public safety answering points — all dispatch centers.

Some emergency medical agencies are asking whether there’s a better way.

“If Erie County decided it wanted to go to a single dispatch we would absolutely participate in that,” said Thomas Maxian, regional director of Rural Metro ambulance.

Maxian notes that a central dispatch for EMS works well elsewhere around the nation, and he says Rural Metro would be first in line to support such a change over.

“We want to absolutely be a good partner with the county and the city. And anything that makes us and every other ambulance company more efficient is good for the community,” he said.

Erie County handles ambulance dispatch for Buffalo.

Rural Metro, which has a five year contract with the city, has been working to improve response times for the most serious calls.

Maxian says the company invested in “FleetEyes” software which provides a real time look at where ambulances are located.

In order to improve response times and the allocation of resources, Maxian is also proposing a direct datalink from the county’s ambulance dispatch to Rural Metro which he says will help move information faster.

“It electronically comes over to our CAD system our computer-aided dispatch system. Pops up on the screen, then our dispatcher can automatically send that call out to an ambulance,” Maxian explained. “We could probably take 30 seconds to a minute off a lot of these calls and we’d cut out the confusion as well.”

Erie County Emergency Services Commissioner Daniel Neaverth says he’s all for new technology, but thinks multiple forms of backup communications, including radios, are needed.

“If I’m pushing you data. I send you a text message. There needs to be multiple ways of me understanding or verifying that you received that message in the first place,” Neaverth said.

As for countywide ambulance dispatch — Neaverth admits that it could be a tough sell for some communities already doing it.

“When it comes to something as sensitive as the dispatches it’s become an ingrained culture within a lot of the communities. I think that there’s a fear. Some people will use fear almost as a weapon,” he said. “Each community really needs to take a look now and say if we’re sustaining this particular system how can we make it better within our own community.”

Is there anything for suburban towns to gain under a central ambulance dispatch system?

For one, Thomas Maxian believes a move like that would create access to more resources.

“You get a true globalization, and when you have globalization you can use those resources more effectively, rather than having to call around. One particular community needs a resource right now it’s a matter of phone calls,” he said.

Earlier this month, another ambulance provider expressed a need to change the way ambulances are dispatched in the county.

“In a perfect world you’d have one dispatching center for all of Erie County,” said Jeff Bono, vice president of Lancaster Volunteer Ambulance Corps, during an interview with News 4. “I don’t know if the city of Buffalo wants to turn over everything to one county EMS or one county dispatching system. I don’t think Lancaster would want that. I don’t think Amherst would like that. But it’s something that needs to be done.”

Republican Erie County lawmaker Edward Rath III, who chairs the Legislature’s Public Safety Committee, left the door open for more discussion when asked about the issue a few weeks ago.

“If there are alternatives where we can look at the county taking the lead; collaborating with our towns and villages and our city, we’re going to look into that,” Rath said. “Right now the reliability, the dispatch system is not being optimized, and it’s not working at 100 percent, and the residents of Erie County are concerned.”

Neaverth points out that there are many moving parts involved with a change over to a countywide central dispatch.

Since it involves multiple agencies, he says certificates of need and agreements have to be in order, along with a willingness among other agencies to participate.

“Every community has to decide for themselves is this current system operating the way that we want it to. And if so, that’s great. Is there a way of doing it better, and who do we approach to be able to do that?

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