ST. LOUIS PARK, Minn. (FOX 9) - The St. Louis Park Fire Department says it has found a way to reduce people's dependency on calling 911 and, in turn, that's improved their quality of life.
About 80 percent of the calls they respond to are EMS calls, many of them are seniors who worry they'll be taken from their homes if they let people see what they're dealing with. But, firefighters have found a way to help them while also reducing 911 calls.
Every time they respond to a call, firefighters know they're granted unique access.
"They let us in their home, they share with us their deepest, darkest secrets, and they feel like they can count on us to deliver a solution," St. Louis Park Fire Department Chief Steve Koering told FOX 9. "Firefighters are kind of problem solvers."
About seven years ago, St. Louis Park firefighters identified a problem – Koering says people were repeatedly calling 911 and having a hard time getting connected to services they need.
"It's a quality of life issue. The person who's struggling with 911 is also wanting help and our firefighters want to give help. So how do we make that connection wor?" Koering said.
The department created the Community Health Alliance – now when they respond to calls they ask if the patient would like to be connected to resources, and they set up a referral plan using city resources. The original target was St Louis Park's aging population.
It could be as simple as transportation or food – once the care team understands the barriers that keep them from thriving, they don't feel the need to call for help as often – which has led to significant decreases in 911 calls across the entire call area.
"Sometimes people would call anywhere from three, five, seven times a week, and those go to zero," said Koering.
The department has expanded it to other underserved communities in the city, and now other departments are asking how they too can implement the program.
At a time when the industry is losing EMS workers, the chief says the system is a more efficient way to use resources. It also makes the job more enjoyable and productive – and makes them feel like they're making a difference and want to stay.