Ambulance response times in the city are improving after changes were made by the private company contracted by DeKalb County to provide the emergency service, including hiring more staff, according to county officials.

The City Council in December raised serious concerns with the DeKalb Fire & Rescue chief and the regional director of American Medical Response over ambulance response times in the city, noting there were numerous instances of ambulances not arriving for 20 to 30 minutes after being called.

An American Medical Response ambulance in DeKalb County, from the company’s Facebook page.

The city had learned that ambulance service’s average response time was slower in Dunwoody, at 10 minutes 45 seconds versus 9 minutes 26 seconds in DeKalb — a 14 percent slower response time in Dunwoody versus DeKalb overall, said Councilmember Terry Nall.

DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond told Dunwoody City Council April 24 that AMR, the private ambulance company contracted by DeKalb Fire & Rescue in 2013 to provide ambulance response, has hired approximately 42 part- and full-time employees since the December meeting.

“Because of your inquiry, we made some inquiries and some modifications made and some improvements made, not just in Dunwoody, but in all DeKalb,” Thurmond said last month.

Thurmond also gave the council a rundown of some of AMR’s average response times for Dunwoody:

  • Nov. 1, 2016 through Nov. 14, 2016 – 10:45 average response time in Dunwoody; 133 cases of 2,665 over 15 minutes.
  • Nov. 1, 2016 through Nov. 30, 2016 – 10:18 average response time in Dunwoody; 24 cases of 609 over 15 minutes.
  • Dec. 1, 2016 through Dec. 31, 2016 – 10:03 average response time in Dunwoody; 27 of 536 over 15 minutes.
  • January 1, 2017 through Jan. 31, 2017 – 8:57 average response time in Dunwoody; 16 of 617 over 15 minutes.

Nall asked the county to provide regular reporting of response times to ensure the improvements are long-term.

AMR Regional Director Ken Simpson told the council in December that improvements would be made in Dunwoody by March. Thurmond said that on March 11, AMR made changes to its shift schedule to better meet demand and so trucks can stay better dispersed through the county.

Simpson also explained to the council that one cause of slower response times is hospital emergency rooms taking longer to sign in patients from ambulances. That means slower turnaround for ambulances, he said. Buying more ambulances is also in the works, he said.

Thurmond told the council that AMR officials have met with hospital partners and has come up with a notification system with the hospitals in an attempt to help address times when there are low ambulance levels in the DeKalb system.

“This has been helpful when the level of available ambulances has dipped,” Thurmond said.

Thurmond also explained that DeKalb Fire and AMR do not currently house ambulances at any station in the county. The ambulances conduct shift change at the fire stations and report to pre-designated posting site strategically placed throughout the county.

An AMR crew reports to Station 18 in the city of Dunwoody for shift change, and this truck’s home post is at this station. This keeps the truck in the north end of the county rather than having to go to the Stone Mountain AMR location for shift change, Thurmond explained.

There are three DeKalb fire stations serving Dunwoody: Station 12 at 5323 Roberts Drive, Station 18 at Barclay Drive in Chamblee and Station 21 at 1090 Crown Point Parkway.

Members of City Council raised concerns last year after learning that local parents called 911 for help for their 18-month-old baby, who suffers severe seizures, and were forced to wait 30 minutes for a DeKalb County ambulance to arrive to take their daughter to the hospital.

Dyana Bagby

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.