SARATOGA COUNTY — Saratoga County has implemented a change to how paramedics respond to scenes.
The changes, in some instances, could get paramedics to patients faster.
The policy went into effect Tuesday and allows paramedics more latitude to decide if a scene is safe enough for them to enter, rather than having to wait for police.
The previous policy allowed dispatchers to instruct responding paramedics to wait for police when a potential safety issue existed at a scene based on the information received from the caller. Under the new plan, the dispatcher will advise of potential safety issues, but the responding paramedics will decide whether to proceed.
The one exception to the new rule are instances where an active assault is happening or weapons are actively being used, according to the new policy. In those cases, the dispatcher will still direct paramedics to wait for police before entering.
The new policy has been in the works for more than a year, Saratoga County EMS Coordinator Mike McEvoy said. The hope is to better serve the public, he said.
A particular call for a heroin overdose helped prompt the change. A mother called for help after finding her daughter, whom McEvoy said was 13, overdosed. The girl survived, but paramedics waited around the corner until police arrived. In the meantime, the girl's father arrived home and saw the waiting ambulance.
The mother called later to question the delay, McEvoy recalled. She characterized the paramedics as hiding around the corner instead of working to save lives, he said.
"She had a good point," McEvoy said. "There's no danger in a scene like that."
Officials started thinking and researching and concluded the paramedics, not the dispatcher, should be responsible for deciding when to go in.
"That's kind of what we're doing, shifting that responsibility onto the paramedics to make the decision based on the information we have," McEvoy said.
Absent the exception for active assaults or weapons use, the policy cites no-longer-active assault scenes, combative patients, overdoses, psychiatric calls and calls for stab wounds and gunshot wounds as situations where paramedics can now decide to enter or wait.
The policy will also allow paramedics to use instructions they learned in school about scene safety and assessing a scene, rather than essentially relying on the dispatcher to do that for them.
The policy covers about a dozen ambulance squads in Saratoga County, including Moreau Emergency Squad and the Clifton Park-Halfmoon Ambulance Corps.
Andre Delvaux, chief operating officer at Moreau, said this week that the overall concern for his squad is crew safety.
He noted that paramedics don't carry weapons to defend themselves, like law enforcement police officers do. With that, he said his squad may institute its own policy on the matter.
"Our biggest concern obviously is to make sure everybody goes home every night," Delvaux said.
But for the Clifton-Park Halfmoon Ambulance Corps, Patrick Bornt said he didn't see the change having much of an effect. He said his agency is fortunate to have seasoned shift supervisors out in the field to help make those decisions as the situations arise.
Safety issues are always on paramedics minds, Bornt said.
"There's always that possibility," Bornt said. "We never know what we're walking into. Just because somebody gives information over the telephone, doesn't mean it's 100 percent accurate."