Fire department: 911 calls should be emergencies

In 2015, the Philadelphia Fire Department’s emergency medical service responded to about 270,000 911 calls. That volume represented an increase of almost 25,000 from the prior year and more than 55,000 from 2007.

Despite the soaring number of requests for the city’s EMS, in about 29 percent of cases no patients were transported to hospitals. Those patients’ conditions were not true medical emergencies. And even among those whom PFD medic units did indeed take to hospitals, more than 14 percent of the transports were not considered medically necessary.

In a new public awareness campaign, the fire department hopes to educate folks on when to call 911 for medical assistance and when an emergency response is not warranted. The department hopes that the effort will reduce the demand on city EMS, a demand that has become increasingly difficult to manage.

“People are turning to emergency rooms for their primary medical care for various reasons. We want the public to know that when EMS 911 is used for non-urgent and low acuity medical issues, ambulances cannot be available to handle a loved one’s life threatening or urgent medical emergency,” the fire department stated in a news release announcing the June 10 launch of the Ambulance Misuse Campaign.

“Medical providers can help the fire department to educate their patients about the difference between a life threatening medical emergency and a non-urgent medical complaint. We want medical institutions to partner with Pennsylvania licensed private ambulance companies for their routine and non-urgent transportation needs.”

Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel and Deputy Jeremiah Laster introduced the program at Aramingo and York streets in Fishtown, joined by John Repique, CEO of Friends Hospital, and Corey Davis, facility director for Kintock Group, a nonprofit social services organization. According to data released by the department, the demand for city EMS is highest in the river wards.

In 2015, there were 16,493 EMS 911 calls in the 19134 ZIP code covering Port Richmond, Harrowgate and Kensington. Second on the list was 19140 in North Philadelphia with 14,477, followed by 19124 in Juniata, Feltonville, Frankford, Northwood and Oxford Circle with 14,214. In each of the city’s busiest eight ZIP codes EMS-wise, at least 10 percent of the calls for service were not true medical emergencies.

“The fire department EMS providers are dedicated to the mission of saving lives,” the department stated. “We want the public to know they should call 911 for life threatening medical emergencies but they should consider transportation and medical alternatives when appropriate.”

As two of the city’s largest institutional generators of EMS 911 calls, Friends Hospital and Kintock Group have each taken steps to cut demand. Kintock, which provides a large array of social services including substance-abuse programs and behavioral therapy, reduced its monthly average from 50 calls a month to 20. Friends, a mental and behavioral health facility, reduced its average from 30 calls to 20 per month.

In addition to working directly with high-volume organizations, the department is conducting public outreach through a logo with the slogan, “Know What a Medical Emergency Is, Know When to Call.” Also, the campaign includes a dozen billboards placed in key locations with the message, “Ambulance Misuse May Cost Lives.”

The fire department has posted online resources on with a dedicated “EMS Ambulance Misuse Campaign” page. The site has links to information about non-emergency medical planning for families and organizations. There also is a guide with links to chronic care management, transportation and first aid information. Information is also available by calling 215–686–5993. ••