CCannuscio-handscrossed(1)In the Journal of Community Health,  UPenn PRC Core Lead Carolyn Cannuscio, ScD, and researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University examine how the public’s use of the 9-1-1 system impacts the first-responders who deliver emergency services.

In 2013, the United States (U.S.) fire service responded to more than 31 million 9-1-1 emergency response calls. The majority of those calls (68 %) were for medical assistance, while only 4 % of calls were fire-related, highlighting that the 9-1-1 system serves as a critical public health safety net.

In focus groups and interviews with 123 firefighters from 12 fire departments across the United States, the researchers developed consensus regarding key themes. Firefighters concurred that the 9-1-1 system is strained and increasingly called upon to deliver Emergency Medical Services (EMS) in the community. Much like the hospital emergency department, EMS frequently assists low-income and elderly populations who have few alternative sources of support. Firefighters highlighted the high volume of low-acuity calls that occupy much of their workload, divert resources from true emergencies, and lead to unwarranted occupational hazards like speeding to respond to non-serious calls.

As a result, firefighters reported high occupational stress, low morale, and desensitization to community needs. Firefighters’ called for improvements to the 9-1-1 system—the backbone of emergency response in the U.S.—including better systems of triage, more targeted use of EMS resources, continuing education to align with job demands, and a strengthened social safety net to address the persistent needs of poor and elderly populations.

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