BRYAN, TEXAS — The Bryan Fire Department saw a near-record high of 911 incidents this year, with approximately 15,000 calls for service.
Trends like this put significant strain on first responders, especially when non-emergency situations keep them bogged down.
"A lot of people are using the ER as their primary doctor,"said Chris Lamb, a Bryan firefighter-paramedic. "That’s been a big issue with the ER surge we've heard about in the United States. And that is a real issue. So my job is to go out and help get them to the appropriate resource that will fix the problem they have.”
Lamb serves as the lone employee running the Bryan Fire Department's new community paramedic program. Last month, at the direction of BFD Chief Rich Giusti, Lamb started his work in reducing the amount of phone calls to 911.
The key, Lamb said, is prevention, and teaching the community about resources that can be used when the immediate urge is to call for an ambulance.
“I took our top 23 [or so] 911 utilizers, who feel they need to call 911 the most... and I’ve found that many of their problems were fixed simply, in one visit," Lamb said, noting that 75 percent of these citizens have already reduced their calls for ambulances
Many people call 911 when they’re suffering a recurring medical issue, or just can’t get their most basic needs met, Lamb said. Lamb works with the city’s most chronic emergency service customers, and with retirement communities, like the Parc at Traditions.
"In independent living, these residents are fully independent," said Tatum Fava, general manager of Parc at Traditions. "So when something happens, they just call 911 because that’s what we’ve almost all been trained to do. You know – 'I've fallen and need help, and I’m going to call 911' ... [Well], let’s figure out why that’s happening.”
Lamb interacts one-on-one with citizens to connect them to doctors, physical therapists, food banks, and nonprofit programs like United Way. Peggi Goss with United Way of the Brazos Valley said that her organization have been able to successfully connect under-served Bryan residents with much needed long-term solutions, thanks to the community paramedic initiative.
“Having [Lamb] personally meet with [residents] and talk to them about what their root cause issues are, it helps him diagnose where he can help them the best, and then we can let him know services he’s not aware of - services that might also assist," said Goss.
The community paramedic effort is but one month old, and Lamb hopes it will continue to succeed and expand in the future, potentially inspiring other regional departments to make similar efforts.