Saving America’s 911 system

From Men’s Health

The dispatcher had said, “21-year-old male, trouble breathing.” But when paramedics Russ Bryant and Mike Haley arrive on the scene in North Philadelphia a few minutes later, the man is breathing just fine.

“What’s going on?” Bryant asks him gently. “I tried to eat a whole stick of butter,” he says. “On a bet. For a thousand dollars. I’ve been sick since then.”

Haley checks his blood pressure and blood-oxygen levels. Butter Boy’s vitals are normal. He’s simply having an anxiety attack.

“You want to go to the hospital?” Bryant asks, his face betraying no hint of his frustration.

“Yeah,” Butter nods. And off we go.

“You call, we haul” is pretty much policy for the city’s emergency medical service (EMS) units, a means of covering the agency’s ass while everyone else’s butts hang out in the breeze. Already tonight, a heart-attack call was handled by a distant ambulance because nearer units were tending to non-emergencies. But at least that person survived: In Philadelphia, two 22-year-old men died from heart attacks after 20-minute waits for help that should have arrived in a fraction of that time.

“Some cases make the papers,” Bryant tells me later. “But things happen all the time, and you just never hear about them.”

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