Top 10 stories of 2016: #2 —Darien hires paramedics, updates emergency dispatch system

Darien’s Emergency Medical Services saw some big changes during 2016, with the town contracting round the clock paramedics and making changes to its emergency dispatch process.

Since early October paramedics from Stamford EMS have been stationed within Darien at all hours, ready to respond to medical emergencies when the conditions dictate. Primary medical response is still maintained by the staff of Post 53, comprised of high school and adult volunteers.

For more than 40 years Post 53 has served as the town’s first emergency response, with Stamford and Norwalk paramedics providing support when necessary. However, a recent study commissioned by the Darien’s Board of Selectmen recommended the town contract paramedics to remain within the town’s borders at all times, with the goal of improving the paramedic response time.

McGrath Consulting began its analysis of Darien’s emergency medical services in fall 2015 and delivered a compelling argument during a Board of Selectmen meeting in April 2016. In the study, McGrath found that while Post 53’s response times coincided with national averages, there were disparities between the response times of Post 53 and those of the paramedics.

McGrath mentioned that Darien offered the some of the best public services in the state, and questioned why the town would settle for less in its EMS system. The consultants believed having paramedics in stationed in Darien would lower their response times and provide the highest level of service possible for the town’s residents.

Based on McGrath’s data, a paramedic is necessary on about 30 percent of all emergency medical calls. The Board of Selectmen moved to have a town owned building at 701 Post Road converted to serve as a housing and dispatch location for the SEMS contractors. While McGrath recommended they be housed alongside Post 53 at their Ledge Road facility in Noroton Heights, the selectmen suggested it may be easier to dispatch from a more central location. Additionally, Post 53 staff noted that the facility has limited space, and the building is on state-owned property.

The move to 24-hour paramedic coincides with state regulations that will increase the requirements for Connecticut EMT certification Post 53 supervisors are certified as Advanced Emergency Medical Technicians but are set to lose that status in 2017, when the state increases the amount of training needed for certification changes. Post 53 would retain its functions as a basic life support (BLS) provider, but paramedics will now be required to perform advanced tasks, such as delivering intravenous medicine.

The town does not pay directly for the new paramedic service; patients are billed individually for transport and care. However, Darien’s contract with Stamford EMS is valued at $400,000 and should payment from patients not reach that amount, the town would be obligated to pay the difference. Payments to SEMS would be reviewed quarterly over the contract’s one-year term.

Changes were also made to the town’s emergency dispatch system based on recommendations made by McGrath. Dispatch for non-medical calls was previously handled by the officers at the Darien Police Department, but McGrath found that the transfer process from the police department to CMED, the regional medical dispatch provider, and the fire department was adding some extra time to the town’s EMS response. Now calls for medical transport and fire emergencies are all handled by CMED’s Southwestern Regional Communication Center. The town’s three volunteer fire departments have spoken highly of CMED’s performance following a trial period in May.

Call reports released by CMED dispatchers were said to be more detailed than those delivered by the police department, containing more information about the nature of the incident and emergency response times.

Furthermore, allowing CMED to handle dispatch for both Post 53 and the volunteer firefighters has improved communication between the separate entities, as the dispatcher can continue relaying information between medical and fire responders. Under Darien’s existing emergency call system, there could be a significant time difference between the dispatch of Post 53 and the fire departments, as they were unable to communicate to one another via radio.

Though Darien boasts one of the stronger emergency response systems in the state, town officials opted to invest in even stronger resources to continue bringing residents the best services possible.

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