EMSA officials said calls for service in June were their highest in a while, almost surpassing a record for the department. Calls have been attributed to many things including chronic illnesses that suddenly get worse, the heat and COVID-19.
Officials said there is a nationwide paramedic shortage and Oklahoma is no different.
They said that almost every other city in the nation is crippled by the shortage which has caused a lag in response times.
OKCFD and EMSA have teamed up and are working together to fight the problem.
"Our paramedics and EMTs with EMSA and the fire department are tired," said Jim Winham, the EMSA Chief Executive Officer. "They are running back to back."
There may be a paramedic shortage but there isn't a shortage on calls. Historically their crews would run about 300 responses a day and transport about 275 of those. Now, their crews are responding to over 400 calls and transporting about 300 of those.
The call volume has hindered response times, especially for the most severe, priority one calls, which they have averaged about 150 a day. That number is double what they normally do.
"Ten minutes and 59 seconds," said Winham, talking about the time they need to be to a priority one call. "We are below 80% sometimes 70% and our goal is to be at 90%."
Bed delays have also been a problem. EMSA units have had to wait over an hour with some patients for a bed which puts that truck and the medics out of service.
So, EMSA and OKCFD are implementing measures to try and alleviate some of the strain. One of those is fire being able to do a patient refusal on scene.
"That saves that transport unit from having to respond all the way to that scene," said Mike Walker, the OKCFD Deputy Chief of Operations.
Walker said they are also putting firefighters through a training that would allow them to work for overtime on their off days as a transport medic on an EMSA unit.
If worse comes to worse, in the case of a severe heart attack, a fire truck could possibly transport a patient to a hospital. But that only happens if the fire crew talks with EMSA and makes the determination there is no unit assigned or an ambulance is more than 20 minutes away.
If that is the case the medic would have to then make a call to the office of the medical director and they would then make the best determination on what to do with the patient in terms of case.
Though officials have said that could be a possibility, due to the severe staffing shortage EMSA is facing, that has not happened yet.