Forsyth County, NC -- Winston-Salem Fire Chief Antony Farmer says his department could save $145,000 - and potentially more a year - in fuel and vehicle maintenance costs if his department can stop responding to non-life threatening emergency calls.
The proposal is part of cost-cutting measures included in the budget proposal for next year. If approved, the fire department will begin the new procedure July 1st.
According to Chief Anthony Farmer, fire fighters were dispatched to just under 20,000 medical calls, along with Forsyth County EMS, in 2012.
But, he says only about 30% of those calls were real emergencies.
Farmer wants the 911 center to prioritize calls better so his department can determine which calls are life-threatening before responding.
"We have found that sometimes when the fire fighters respond to residences, we get there and people are standing on the porch. Or in their door with suitcases ready to be transported,' he explained.
Forsyth County EMS Director Dan Ozimek admits some of the medical calls both fire and EMS are dispatched to turn out to not be life-threatening, however, he says it's not appropriate for the chief to "pick and choose" which calls to answer.
"We don't know that they are not emergencies until we get there and assess the patient," Ozimek added.
Ozimek says there are more fire stations than EMS centers and sometimes fire fighters can respond faster in an emergency.
911 dispatchers already screen calls and as a result there were more than 5,000 medical, non-emergency calls fire fighters were not dispatched to in 2012, Ozimek said.
The EMS director provided News 2 the list dispatchers use to determine which calls are emergencies.
Compared to the list of "life-threatening calls" the fire chief has mapped out, Ozimek says there's potential some emergencies won't receive the timely response needed.
For example, Farmer's "life-threatening" list does not include child birth, abdominal pain, animal bites or poisonings. (Compare the lists here)
"In budget times we are all trying to find ways to cut but it should never interfere with public safety," Ozimek said.
The fire chief says part of his plan is to decrease non-emergency calls and utilizing his resources better to serve the community.
Winston-Salem residents who call 911 for medical service and cause fire fighters to be dispatched should make sure they are calling about real emergencies, the chief said.
Farmer says if fire fighters respond and there's no medical emergency in a residence, after the third time, fire fighters won't respond to that residence for the next 12 months.
But that doesn't mean the ambulance won't respond.
"We have to look at how efficient we are in terms of utilizing city funds or citizen funds to deliver the services that we do. And saving life is a high priority too,' said Farmer.
Some Triad fire fighters News 2 spoke with sympathized with Farmer's frustration about responding to calls that could have been handled by EMS.
Fire departments in Forsyth County, Guilford, and Alamance all say their dispatchers pre-screen calls before fire fighters head out on medical emergencies.
The fire chief of the Guil-Rand Fire Department in Randolph County says his department responds to all medical calls in their district that is considered an immediate need; they will respond to other issues if there's no ambulance.
Chief Farmer says the Winston-Salem city council has pretty much approved his plan and it'll go into effect July 1st.