Bristol, VA changing the way it responds to emergency calls


BRISTOL, VA - If you live in Bristol, Virginia, you won't be hearing fire truck sirens every time an emergency call comes in.

For the last few years, the fire department has sent a truck on all calls to assist Bristol's Life Saving Crew, but the city council doesn't think that's the best use of taxpayer money.

"Our goal of course is to provide safety to our residents," Bristol, Virginia Mayor Bill Hartley tells News 5. "But we also have a responsibility to be good stewards of tax dollars."

Last Saturday, the city's fire and police departments gave a presentation to the city council, outlining their finances and operations in comparison to four other localities in Virginia with similar size and population. One statistic that popped out to the city council was the number of emergency calls fire trucks responded to. Of the 1,681 emergency calls last year, 1,544 fell into the EMS or Other categories.

In response to that meeting, Fire Chief Mike Armstrong is implementing a 90-day trial system which will allow the life saving crew to respond to medical calls first, without his department's help.

"We're looking at the calls we run and the vehicles we use to run those calls," Chief Armstrong says.

On Wednesday night, four emergency calls came in around the same time. The Life Saving Crew sent ambulances out to the first two, the fire department responded with a pickup truck equipped with EMS equipment to the third, and sent a fire truck to the fourth.

"The life saving crew is still going to respond, we're still going to respond," Chief Armstrong says. "It's just a matter of how we go about doing that response."

There are three fire stations in Bristol. One is on Lee Street, one is on Euclid Avenue and another is on Suncrest Drive. But ambulances are only housed in the Euclid and Suncrest Stations, which is causing some concerns among citizens that response times will suffer from the change.

For Bristol, Virginia resident Eric Ramey, the change is personal after an experience one of his family members had after calling 9-1-1.

"The ambulance was late getting there," he says. "Thankfully the fire department was already there and working with the family member. It took several minutes for the ambulance to get there."

However, other residents agree with the City Council's assessment.

"If there's no need for the fire truck, there's no real reason to call them out," Robert Stephens says.

But Chief Armstrong doesn't think it'll be an issue.

"As far as response times go," he says. "I don't see any huge changes in that."

Chief Armstrong stresses to News 5 this is just a trial period, and if at any point he feels like the safety of the citizens of Bristol is starting to drop, he'll call it off and starting sending fire trucks on every call again.

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