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LA 911 dispatch rules waste valuable time

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POSTED September 14, 2012 9:11 p.m.

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Required questioning by 911 operators delays the dispatching of paramedics and the start of life-saving CPR in Los Angeles, a newspaper reported Friday, citing a new study.

The internal audit of the Los Angeles Fire Department revealed that dispatchers waste valuable time getting callers to start CPR on cardiac-arrest victims, often after the point when brain death begins, the Los Angeles Times (lat.ms/TQhZrf) said.

In one 911 call cited in the report, a dispatcher asked a caller five times if a patient who had a heart attack was breathing.

Cardiac arrests account for only 2 percent of the department's 911 calls, but are among the most time-sensitive emergencies.

In instances when chest compressions were used, dispatchers took on average of 4 minutes and 12 seconds to get the procedure started. The longest delay was more than 7½ minutes.

"Speed is everything," says the report obtained by the newspaper under the California Public Records Act. "Withholding or delaying (CPR) may result in a potentially preventable death!!"

The report also raised concerns about the scripted questions dispatchers are required to ask.

It was given to dispatchers in July, not long after the newspaper looked at more than 1 million dispatches and reported the agency lagged well behind national standards for sending rescuers to medical emergencies.

The report recommends eliminating some of the questions asked by dispatchers so they can get CPR started more quickly, and paramedics can be dispatched sooner.

The department has been scrutinized after top fire officials acknowledged publishing statistics showing crews arrived at medical emergencies more quickly than they actually did.

However, the agency has improved its emergency care, with paramedics successfully restoring a heartbeat to cardiac arrest victims twice as often as they did in prior years.

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