On Thursday, Owensboro Fire Department responded to an early morning fire in the 1400 block of West Third Street. Due to high temperatures outside, which can cause firefighters to overheat, OFD requested backup from first responders with the newly-active AMR ambulance service, who officials say did not immediately respond to the fire.
The unintentional fire was started in the basement of the home and was reported to dispatch around 8:30 a.m. First responders are dispatched alongside fire departments to stand by in case they are needed or, in cases like this one, to relieve firefighters who could become overheated.
Owensboro has been under an excessive heat warning since Thursday. Temperatures ran as high as 82 degrees with 87 percent humidity Thursday morning.
However, AMR Operation Manager Jamie Hardin said Thursday’s event wouldn’t be making headlines if all eyes weren’t on AMR right now. The company took over ambulance services for Owensboro and Daviess County on July 1, replacing Procarent’s Yellow Ambulance. According to Hardin, there’s some extra pressure on AMR right now.
“Years ago, I started having our crew on courtesy standby for structural fires because — you never know, but just in case there’s a victim or someone in the house,” Hardin said. “Then in situations like this — they want an ambulance there in case their guys get overheated.”
Hardin cited an abnormally high call volume that came in Thursday morning for AMR’s alleged lateness to the West Third Street fire.
“We had a flood of calls that came in at the same time,” he said. “Within four or five minutes, it was one call after the next. We were scrambling to get multiple crews and ambulances together to respond to those calls.”
After 20 years in the business, Hardin said high call volumes are a regular occurrence for first responders, though nobody can predict when they will hit.
“I’ve seen 20 calls come in within one hour and then we won’t do a run for the next six hours,” he said. “Ten calls come in and we only have six trucks. When we get calls to patients, that comes before a standby.”
Thursday morning’s fire did not involve any persons inside the home, though OFD did rescue a cat from inside the burning building.
Hardin said he’s not even sure his ambulance was late to respond to the situation, but said OFD began to worry they wouldn’t show because of the high call volume they were experiencing.
OFD Fire Chief Steve Mitchell referred all questions about Thursday’s incident to AMR, though he did mention the ambulance provider was working on some issues with its dispatch.
“I can tell you that it’s being addressed,” Mitchell said.
According to Hardin, AMR has undergone some changes with dispatch since the July 1 switch from Yellow. With ambulance personnel remaining about 95 percent unchanged, crews have had to learn the ins and outs of a dispatch system using a different technology than radios. Hardin described the new system as something similar to a cell phone.
“We’re used to radio, so that’s different to us, it’s a different system,” Hardin said. “Dispatch is going to Evansville eventually. Right now, dispatch isn’t where it’s permanent home is going to be, so anything that happens gets blamed on our dispatch.”
911 Director Paul Nave said he is currently working with AMR to transfer all 911 calls to the dispatch center in Evansville, but that calls are currently being made to the local dispatch center in Owensboro until Owensboro Central Dispatch has the capability to make that transfer happen. The dispatch transition AMR is currently facing is not based on changes made by central dispatch.
“We still dispatch the ambulance over the radio,” Nave said. “They can respond more efficiently that way. We’re very consistent in our policy. They should receive [alerts] from us before they even get a call. We’ve not changed the way Owensboro Central Dispatch does business.”
Mitchell told city commissioners on July 9 that the ambulance transition had gone smoothly, even saying the process went so well, nobody would’ve noticed a difference.
“I guarantee you, no one knew what happened on June 30 at 7 p.m.,” Mitchell said. “But that transition did happen.”