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On Your Side: Lack of automatic aid still delaying response on some medical calls

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It was late at night in early February. A car full of passengers flipped over on Silver Lake Boulevard and Peppermint Way in Stead. Some of the occupants were trapped inside the vehicle, according to the crash report, while another had been ejected and was laying in the road. Fuel was spilling from the overturned vehicle.

Less than a quarter of a mile away, the crew at Truckee Meadows Fire Station 13 was inside sleeping.

But the call went to a Reno fire station. Station 9 was called out first even though they are three and a half miles away from the crash scene.

"It goes to Reno because it came from a Reno address," explained Reno Fire Chief Dave Cochran. "We're the primary jurisdiction so we respond."

According to dispatch records obtained by News 4, Reno's Engine 9 was dispatched :36 seconds after the original 9-1-1 call. Then, one minute and 39 seconds into the call additional Reno crews were called out. There was still no call to Truckee Meadows Station 13.

The reporting party explained to dispatchers the vehicle was upside down and that people were trapped and screaming.

Reno's engine 9 was en route three minutes and 23 seconds after the call came in.

It wasn't until five minutes and 45 seconds into the call that a Reno crew asked dispatch for help from Truckee Meadows Fire, under their mutual aid agreement.

After all that, Reno's Engine 9 arrived on scene eight minutes and 45 seconds after the initial 9-1-1 call. They were followed, less than a minute later, by the crew from Truckee Meadows Station 13.

The end result was a delay of almost six minutes when you consider the crew from Truckee Meadows Station 13, the county station, could have been on the scene working to save lives within three minutes as they were less than a minute's drive time from the crash scene according to their chief.

But that's not how the system works.

"The back and forth of calling each other and trying to figure out who was available took some time," explained Truckee Meadows Fire Chief Charlie Moore.

Because Reno and Truckee Meadows Fire do not have an automatic aid agreement for medical calls, the closest crew does not always respond. In this case the county (Truckee Meadows) engine was closest, but the call came from Reno and went through Reno dispatch.

Truckee Meadows Fire Chief Charlie Moore is not happy about that.

"It was a delay that didn't have to happen," he told us.

Both Reno and Truckee Meadows fire chiefs say they support a regional approach where the closest engine responds, as they do with fires. But making that happen for medical calls is apparently easier said than done, because it hasn't happened yet.

Such a change could require the agencies to adapt their equipment and training procedures.

We asked about it more than a year ago when a young man, Terry Ball, was shot to death just down the street from the same Truckee Meadows fire station at Silver Lake and Stead Blvd.

Ball was killed on Valentine's Day, 2017. Again, a Reno crew was called out first, although fire officials say that situation was a little less clear because the shooting victim had been moved to another location down the street by friends after he was shot.

But the question is, how many more times will there be a medical emergency where the closest fire crew is not the first to be called?

We asked Reno Fire Chief Dave Cochran if cases like the rollover crash in February keep him up at night.

"It does," he admitted. "Because I see the value in a regional approach."

Until a regional agreement is in place though, incidents like these will continue to happen where the closest crew is not the first to respond. And it could happen to you or me.

The good news is a regional agreement may be closer to becoming reality now, after this latest delayed response.

"This has led us to say we can do better in terms of getting the closest unit to the scene faster than what we're doing," pledged Truckee Meadows Chief Charlie Moore.

Luckily everyone did survive that crash in February but some of the injuries were pretty serious. And according to Chief Moore, when it comes to cardiac arrest, a person's ability to survive drops ten percent for every minute that goes by.

Both fire chiefs say talks will continue to try to get both agencies and the Remsa ambulance service on board with an automatic aid agreement for medical calls in the near future. But how long that will take is still unclear.

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