After hearing input from Anthony Wilmarth of the county attorney's office and John Morissey, state Department of Health senior emergency medical care representative from Syracuse, the Madison County Board of Supervisors' Criminal Justice/Public Safety/Telecommunications Committee voted unanimously to approve priority dispatching procedures.
Priority dispatch is an initiative that has 911 dispatchers advising first-responders whether they should roll as "Priority One" (with lights and sirens) or as the less urgent "Priority Two."
The determination would be based upon questions asked by the dispatcher.
Oneida Fire Chief Donald Hudson has been a vocal opponent of the methods employed to establish the priority. He has spoken at several committee meetings, trying to convince supervisors to vote it down. Hudson said it's a bad idea to have telephone operators assessing -- sight-unseen -- the medical conditions of patients on the other end of the phone.
Hudson said the program exposes all parties to potential litigation. He told committee members last month if a patient died because EMS followed a no-lights-or-sirens directive when the emergency was bigger than it seemed, the survivors would sue the agency and county. If responders used lights and siren when it was not directed by the dispatcher and get into an accident, that would be grounds for suit against the agency, he said.
Hudson asked that his department not be included in the procedure, but legal advice from Wilmarth said the county's agreeing to a different procedure for one department could expose it to legal liability. Even a baseless or nuisance lawsuit would require the county or agency to spend money to defend itself.
"This program is not a new program," Morissey said. "It's been around a number of years. As more and more 911 centers become more sophisticated in how they grow and develop, it is being adopted by an increasing number of agencies."