Increased traffic creates hardships for Denver Health paramedics

DENVER — Traffic is becoming a bigger headache as more people move to the Denver area.

Not only are commutes taking longer, but the congestion is putting lives at risk. Denver Health Medical Center paramedics say they are finding it more challenging to get people to emergency rooms quickly.

The FOX31 Problem Solvers did a ride along with the Denver Health Paramedic Division to experience the challenges under stressful conditions.

“We’re talking minutes and seconds that are important here," said Lt. Jake McCaig with the Denver Health Paramedic Division.

Many times, Denver traffic is help’s biggest enemy.

There were more 112,406 paramedic response calls in 2016 requiring a Denver Health ambulance response. That number jumped to 117,045 calls in 2017 and 117,630 last year.

“It’s a difficult job,” dispatcher Tojia Hoskins said. “It can be stressful at times.”

Hoskins and her colleagues depend on a specialized system to help them optimize a limited number of ambulances across a large jurisdiction.

“It tries to help us put the ambulance there before the call ever occurs,” said Capt. Nate Bunge.

But even the smartest software and detailed human planning can’t make Denver traffic go away.

“With a lot of traffic going on, the potential for getting into an accident is very high,” McCaig said.

On the Problem Solvers’ ride along, congestion on Colfax and 6th avenues slowed McCaig down. The FOX31 crew witnessed drivers who didn’t seem to know how to react when the supervisor SUV approached with lights flashing and sirens wailing.

Paramedics say drivers should yield by moving to the right, not the left.

Traffic slowdowns for ambulances are monitored inside the Denver Health Ambulance Division command center on Denver Health’s main campus. Supervisors strategize and coordinate crew locations from the center.

Each medic must pass training that tests their sensibility and geography. GPS devices are not installed in Denver Health ambulances. Paramedics must be able to navigate with just an address, according to McCaig.

Paramedics are required to respond to calls in under nine minutes, 90 percent of the time. Denver Health paramedics need to meet response time goals across Denver County and beyond. Its jurisdiction also includes Glendale, Englewood, Sheridan and the Skyline Fire Protection District. Their busiest time of day— when most people are out and about— is from 11 a.m to 5 p.m.

To keep up with a changing and growing metro area, Denver Health annually updates its call and traffic prediction system.

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