MINNEAPOLIS - Area paramedics are facing added hazards responding to medical emergencies in the wake of a wintry blast that left roads and sidewalks icy.
Even getting out of the way of an ambulance is a tougher proposition, because of slick roadways and lanes narrowed by piles of snow following a major winter storm in Minnesota.
"We're funneling to a much smaller area with all the snow on the side of the road, and it's far more slippery," Doug Gesme, operations manager for Hennepin County Medical Center Emergency Medical Services, told KARE Tuesday.
"People in traffic aren't necessarily going to stop on a dime and we don't want them to; we want them to safely get to the side of the road if at all possible."
Gesme said average response times in the aftermath of the storm were one to two minutes longer. But getting to the address in time to help a patient is only the first challenge.
"Once we arrive on scene we've got the hurdles of the snow covered sidewalks and slippery steps, all can add to problems," Gesme explained.
"We don't want our patients or our staff to suffer added injuries from a fall."
On Tuesday night KARE 11 tagged along with paramedics Derrick Berg and Pete Carlson, who had no way of predicting where they'd be dispatched.
In one case police requested an ambulance in northeast Minneapolis, with a drunken woman who had stated she wanted to stab herself or her grandson. After making sure she was medically fit to travel, Carlson and Berg took her to Abbott-Northwestern hospital.
From there they were sent to south Minneapolis, where a yound woman was struck a tree with her car, and was found unconscious and unresponsive with her foot on the gas peddle. They revived her in the ambulance and she regained consciousness while in route to HCMC.
The high volume of calls after the storm stretched the system to near capacity, but the crews are all being coordinated by the Hennepin County Emergency Communications Center, located in the HCMC hospital complex.
The dispatchers there decide where the ambulances and paramedics are most needed, in an area of Hennepin County that encompasses 266 square miles, and nearly one million potential patients.
"Our communications center is critical to the operation of the whole department, so they have a great big task to do, and it's challenging," Gesme remarked.
"Those people are also feeling the added stress of managing more resources at an even faster pace than normal, because of the higher demand for services after the storm."
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