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Orange County EMS aims to reduce ambulance response times

For local officials, the time it takes for Orange County ambulances to respond to emergency calls is about five minutes too long.

Orange County ambulance response time is approximately 17 minutes, County Manager Frank Clifton said.

Emergency Services officials say they want to reduce that time to 12 minutes.

The Orange County Board of Commissioners met Tuesday night to discuss plans to improve ambulance response times across the county.

Clifton said the county’s high response time —which lags eight minutes behind Alamance and Durham County response times — endangers residents, because if the ambulances take too long to respond, people may sustain more serious injuries.

At the meeting, the board received a presentation on county ambulance response times and the proximity of emergency response stations to different county locations.

The study, conducted by MMA Consulting Group Inc., was submitted in May.

The group was hired in 2010 to evaluate the county’s emergency services department, and its findings have inspired proposals for change.

Frank Montes de Oca, the county’s emergency services director, said the department operates with five ambulances.

But in November, the county will add an additional ambulance to improve proximity and response time.

The county also added two telecommunication specialists in July as part of its plan to add 10 emergency services positions this year.

Montes de Oca said the demand for emergency services has increased during the past few years, along with the Chapel Hill-Carrboro population.

The county has made progress toward improving emergency medical services, Clifton said, but radio communication presents an ongoing problem.

He said the county has several dead zones for radio communication — particularly in its more rural northern section.

Clifton said a possible solution would be to build more response towers on the northern and western side of the county.

“The county’s been moving forward the last couple years. We’ve added additional staffing. We’ve added additional units,” he said, “but there is still more to be done.”

And the county faces a lack of funding for additional emergency services.

In order to build another tower, the county would have to invest between $250,000 and $300,000, Montes de Oca said.

Bernadette Pelissier, commissioner chairwoman, said while improvements to EMS are important, they come at a high cost.

“It’s about how we should prioritize our expenditures,” she said.

Clifton said he agrees that funding EMS has been difficult, especially in the face of large state budget cuts.

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“(The problem) is about whether you build schools or do you build emergency response towers?”

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