The Daily Pennsylvanian is a student-run nonprofit.

Please support us by disabling your ad blocker on our site.

The recent death of a local man at a salsa event on campus has started a dialogue about the response time of emergency crews.

According to police officials, emergency crews were at the scene within four minutes. However, some witnesses complained that the response time was longer than that, what they called disturbingly slow.

Jason Arroyo, 28, collapsed on the dance floor and was pronounced dead upon arrival at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

For members of the Philadelphia Fire Department -- who are responsible for responding to medical emergencies throughout the city -- any number of factors can prevent medical crews from arriving on scene in a timely manner.

However, compared with the overall national average, response times for the PFD are short.

According to Executive Chief of the Philadelphia Fire Department Daniel Williams, the Philadelphia average response time for a medical emergency is six minutes and 38 seconds, compared with a national standard of about 10 minutes.

When anyone calls the Penn Police to report a medical emergency, the call is reported directly to the Philadelphia Fire Department while the caller is on the line. The request goes into the city queue for the closest fire house and the closest available ambulance, according to Mitch Yanak, director of PennComm at the UPPD.

Ninety-nine percent of the time, PennComm has "excellent response time from the fire department," Yanak added.

While the Philadelphia average response time seems to compare favorably with national averages, the interval Williams provided was from the time an ambulance is dispatched to its arrival on scene -- not from the time of the original call.

Before an ambulance is actually dispatched a number of steps must be completed.

"Our call-takers down in the Fire Communications Center will ... go through a field of questions called call screening," after a call is received, Williams said. "When the call-taker is satisfied with the amount of information that they have, they will then enter the address into the computer system, and it will then generate the nearest medic unit."

Joel Caplan, a doctoral student in Penn's School of Social Work -- a former emergency medical services worker who has conducted research about ambulance response time -- said that response time can be crucially affected before an ambulance is dispatched.

Caplan said that when studying response times, it is important not just to concentrate on the interval between dispatch and arrival but also to "focus on communications and dispatchers' training -- making sure that there's enough dispatchers on duty ... that they know how to handle the calls ... that there's no time in between when the call is received and when the call is dispatched that's wasted."

"If you can take off three seconds from [dispatchers] and 30 seconds from transports," it can be the difference between life and death, Caplan added.

Once a dispatcher places a call, it is not guaranteed that the closest unit will be available to respond -- one of the major factors that slows response time, Williams said.

To deal with that issue, Philadelphia developed the "first responder" program. If the nearest medic is not available to respond to an emergency, the nearest emergency vehicle is immediately dispatched while an ambulance is located.

"Every engine and ladder is staffed with [emergency medical technicians] who are trained and licensed by the state of Pennsylvania in emergency medical care," Williams said, adding that trucks carry defibrillators and other emergency medical equipment in case they are the first to arrive on scene.

According to EMS chief Daniel Parries, the busiest time for medics is morning rush hour during weekdays. Friday and Saturday nights -- like when Arroyo collapsed -- are also a high-volume time.

But Caplan emphasized that response times are not necessarily the best indicator of emergency services' effectiveness.

"Ultimately, the best way to evaluate [emergency medical services] is to look at public satisfaction with those services," Caplan said. Response time "is easy to evaluate because you have the numbers, but if you get there quickly and you don't do what you're supposed to do when you get there, then the public is not going to be satisfied."

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.