Florida fire and EMS agencies deal with staff shortages, high call volumes during pandemic

Florida

(WESH) – Rescue crews carrying out 911 calls are stretched thin across Central Florida as they handle high call volumes and staff shortages, all while the surge in COVID cases makes the job much harder.

Brevard County Fire Chief Mark Schollmeyer said at the beginning of August, the team was dealing with longer wait times. Trying to transfer patients over to the hospitals meant one to three hours of patience.

“People think that just because they hop in the back of an ambulance they would get seen first,” Schollmeyer said. “I can tell you firsthand that those ERs are absolutely jam-packed with people and you’re going to wait for a long time, maybe on an ambulance stretcher in a hallway.”

Along with COVID-19 are unfilled jobs and phones ringing off the hook. Lake County’s EMS has felt the impact so much, the agency is asking for extra help from other groups.

“To help relieve our first responders… a team of ambulances from the Sarasota County Fire Department and the City of North Port Fire Rescue may be seen in your neighborhoods responding to 911 calls,” a post read on the agency’s Facebook page.

Lake County officials told WESH 2 in a statement they’re working closely to staff ambulances and “the assistance from South Florida partners will help to fill any gaps.”

Schollmeyer said they’ve asked residents to limit their 911 calls to critical, true emergencies.

“About two to three weeks ago we were one of the first departments to make a plea to the public to say, ‘Hey, use 911 for what it’s intended for,'” Schollmeyer said. “Only call for emergencies that are life-threatening in nature.”

It’s a similar ask from Seminole County’s Fire Department, where Lt. Curt Halcom said recent 911 calls have been setting records.

“From a mom having a kid with a broken finger, she just doesn’t know: Does she take her kid to the hospital or where she goes with everybody else having COVID?” Halcom said.

However, the department has seen some improvements within the last week.

People are urged to not dial 911 for mild COVID-19 symptoms, or minor cuts, scrapes, and sprains.

“We also have the storms in the afternoon to deal with in Florida,” Halcom said. “We’re worried about COVID, but we’re also out there in the thunderstorms and the rain and the accidents, the traffic and things like that, so there’s a lot of elements that go together.”

The first responders said when they do get an emergency call, they’ll be ready to help no matter what.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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