SINGAPORE: When emergency calls come, it is a race against time for Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) paramedics.
They are quickly dispatched to attend to an incident, usually within 11 minutes.
If needed, fire and rescue specialists are also deployed on fire bikes, as they can weave around traffic and reach an incident site earlier.
But how fast is it from the time a 995 call is made to when paramedics are called into action?
SCDF’S NERVE CENTRE
The answer lies in the SCDF Operations Centre, which is the nerve centre of the Life-saving Force.
Operations centre specialists deal with distressed callers frequently, which can mean taking some time to pin down details like location and symptoms.
SCDF says it takes 80 seconds to dispatch its vehicles, but in more challenging situations, it could take longer.
Captain Shawn Tan, rota commander of SCDF's operations department, said: “When members of the public call in with a 995 distress, we will guide them to give us a location and what exactly has happened. If we know there is a medical or a fire of HAZMAT (hazardous materials) or rescue incident, we will send the appropriate response to their condition.
"When a call ends, it doesn’t just end there. We will continue to monitor the situation. Sometimes in a medical call, we will monitor all the way until the patient arrives at the hospital in the care of caretakers."
RELENTLESS UPWARD CLIMB
Singapore's ageing population means an increase in ambulance calls and a greater number of more complex medical emergencies that SCDF has to deal with.
SCDF has said that the number of ambulance calls has been on a "relentless upward climb" for the past two decades.
More than 180,000 emergency medical service calls were made last year - an increase of more than 2 per cent compared to the year before. Between 2012 to 2016, the number of calls rose by an average of 6 per cent yearly. In a single day, the operations centre can receive up to 1,000 calls.
NEW EMERGENCY MEDICAL SERVICE FRAMEWORK
In response to the growing numbers, SCDF set up an Emergency Medical Service framework in April last year.
This is how it works – let’s say a man is suffering from a cardiac arrest. When a 995 call is made, operations centre specialists will conduct a medical triage to assess the situation. What this means is that life-threatening cases will be prioritised when determining the appropriate resources to be deployed.
In the event of a cardiac arrest, an ambulance will be deployed as well as a fire bike, which has a quicker response time. Meanwhile, the specialist stays on the line with the caller, to guide him to perform dispatcher-assisted CPR. Community first responders within the vicinity will also be activated via the myResponder App to respond to the emergency.
RELYING ON TECH & COMMUNITY
The myResponder app was launched in April 2015. As of end-2017, it had more than 72,000 downloads and more than 21,000 members registered as Community First Responders.
More than 1,600 responders have arrived at incident scenes to help after receiving notifications from SCDF, and there have been nine survivors thanks to the app.
WO2 Siti Zarinah Sarip, senior operations centre specialist and paramedic, said: "Sometimes when the callers call us, they will be very, very panicked. They don’t know how to do CPR and they will just keep screaming. With myResponders, they actually come over and assist while we (are) online and calm the callers, and also myResponders will do the CPR as well."
Captain Tan added: "We try to use myResponder to rally help from community responders, so the survivability rate of the patient is really increased. While the ambulance is en route, the person next to the patient themselves is the fastest caregiver and every second counts when it comes to a cardiac arrest case."
HELP FROM NURSES
Nurses seconded from the Ministry of Health are also at the Operations Centre to help. They audit some of the calls, provide medical education for all the dispatchers and tap on the National Electronic Health Record for more complex cases.
"This allows the nurses to access the records when someone calls for a person who is critically ill," said chief medical officer Colonel (Dr) Ng Yih Yng. "We look through the records for relevant information that we can forward to the ambulance crew. That way, they are better prepared with more information to help treat the patient when they arrive."
With the number of emergency calls set to rise, SCDF says it is also looking into ways to further tap technology to rally the community in times of crisis.