Northville Fire Chief Jim Allen
Dec. 13, 2013 PLYMOUTH EAGLE.
The recent death of a City of Plymouth resident may have been impacted by a radio problem which delayed 911 response time for more than 25 minutes.
According to 911 recordings, the victim’s husband called for help at 1:37 a.m. telling the dispatcher that he was unable to wake his wife, who was breathing but unresponsive. The dispatch operator, based in Plymouth Township, transferred the call to the Huron Valley Ambulance (HVA) call center in Ypsilanti where the frantic husband repeated the details of the emergency situation. The local dispatcher logged in the priority-one call and sent an electronic emergency tone to summon the City of Northville 55 paid on-call volunteers. He also used a radio broadcast to Station 2 monitors to respond. The City of Northville Fire Department was notified as that department provides emergency response in the City of Plymouth since the services of the two communities were merged last January.
The two Northville on-call firefighters manning the downtown Plymouth station should have responded to the emergency tone with the city-owned ambulance from the garage at Main and Church streets to the home of the caller, a distance of about a half mile.
First to arrive on the scene, however, were two City of Plymouth police cruisers and the responding officers immediately began CPR in an attempt to save the woman, apparently in serious cardiac distress. The Huron Valley Ambulance rig arrived with two paramedics at 1:43 a.m., six minutes after the initial 911 call, and those responders began to administer aid to the woman. The tapes reveal that it became immediately obvious that necessary and recommended medical procedures required more help to handle equipment, perform tasks, continue the intubation and begin an intravenous line to provide needed medication to the woman.
After 18 minutes with only two paramedics and two police officers at the scene, there had still been no response from the Northville city on-call staff or the Plymouth city ambulance, according to the taped recordings of the incident.
At 1:54 a.m. the Plymouth Township dispatcher, at the urgent request of the police officers witnessing the desperate efforts to save the woman’s life, paged the fire department for the second time. Seconds later, reverberant radio inquiries from the police officers prompted the Plymouth Township dispatcher to call Northville Township directly to attempt to determine when critical help might arrive, according to the recordings obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
Those radio reports indicate that the tone signal and the radio broadcast weren’t heard because Northville Township public safety staff were most likely on their radios with their own emergency. The Northville Township department shares the airwaves with the City of Northville department. The dispatcher, suspecting there could be an equipment problem, then requested that Northville send out the alarm tone for a second time.
Seven minutes later, following that second alarm, City of Northville responders arrived in the Plymouth ambulance at the scene at 2:01 a.m., 25 minutes after the initial 911 call to find that the woman had expired.
Northville Fire Chief James Allen said he believes the reason the fire department response was delayed was due to a malfunction in the radio equipment.
“We weren’t notified,” Allen said. “When they toned it out, no tones went out to the fire department.” Allen said he believes that when the early morning call for EMS in Plymouth came into the City of Northville, the on-call firefighters could not hear the page.
“There was a malfunction in the radio equipment,” Allen said.
Northville Township handles the dispatch operation for police and fire for both the city and township of Northville and allows the City of Plymouth to utilize their antenna to tone and broadcast for emergency help.
Public safety officials speculate that the decision by the City of Plymouth to use a telephone line rather than a microwave antenna between the dispatch center in Plymouth Township and the City of Northville could be a flaw in the system. City of Plymouth dispatch communication capability is now shared with both the city and township of Northville. If Northville Township has any ongoing event, and is using radio communication, the emergency tone or alarm from Plymouth is not heard. Plymouth city officials opted to share radio tower access with Northville Township rather than construct a dedicated municipal tower despite that condition.
The lack of Advanced Life Support capability in the on-call volunteer department that now serves the City of Plymouth and the City of Northville has also been criticized by neighboring public safety department officials as “less-than-ideal.”
Plymouth City Manager Paul Sincock said that there would be an investigation of the medical run.
He said that he was concerned, but not “overly concerned” about the situation.
“It’s not a matter that they didn’t respond, but that they responded in a timely fashion when they were notified to respond. I won’t speculate,” Sincock said.
He added that all Plymouth police officers carry defibrillators in the city patrol cars. Medical experts, however, say that many times the defibrillator is not the solution to restart a stopped heart and resuscitate a patient. Often, as in the recent tragedy, an intravenous line with medication is required, a function of certified paramedics, experts said. Police officers are not required to have that certification or training.
The cost for the dedicated microwave communication equipment the city opted to forego in the merger was estimated at about $25,000.
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