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Serious injury calls drop for Pinellas

Emergency services officials think advances in safety technology and public safety education are key factors in the reduction of calls.

Published May 15, 2004

Pinellas County Emergency Medical Services officials crunched the numbers recently and found some surprising trends.

In the last three years, the number of calls that EMS answers for people who have been seriously hurt has dropped a lot.

Calls for traffic crashes with major trauma went from 634 in 2000 to 384 in 2003. Bayflite made nearly 200 fewer trips from auto accident scenes last year than it did three years ago. In that time, the number of flights dropped from 517 to 319.

There was a similar drop in drowning deaths, from 26 in 1999 to 11 last year.

"It seems like the community is really becoming a safer place to live for a myriad of reasons," said Chuck Kearns, Pinellas County's director of EMS and fire administration.

Kearns said he recently noticed the trends going over numbers kept by the EMS medical director and asked a staff member to make a spreadsheet of the numbers.

"When he created the graphs, I said, "Wow! What the heck's going on?' " Kearns said.

After thinking about it, officials couldn't identify any one reason for the declines in serious traffic accidents. They suspect that a combination of technological advances, changes in public policy and increased public awareness may all play a role.

"It's kind of puzzling," he said. "It's a very good thing. We just can't put our finger on any one item."

For starters, Kearns said traffic signals are better coordinated throughout Pinellas. Also, especially in mid and northern Pinellas, firefighters are using a device on their engines to change traffic signals from red to green as they approach intersections.

The devices not only help rescuers respond sooner but seem to reduce accidents that occur when drivers are trying to get out of the way of oncoming fire engines or ambulances. Kearns said he hasn't studied the phenomenon, but he listens to emergency dispatches on the radio and doesn't hear about nearly as many of those accidents as he once did.

It's also helped that state and county officials have paid attention to traffic safety on U.S. 19, adding sidewalks, installing roadside signs that give drivers a better idea where they are and changing the medians to prevent drivers from pulling out of side streets and trying to make left turns onto U.S. 19.

Building new overpasses seems to help in two ways, Kearns said. First, the finished overpasses reduce accidents at major intersections. During construction, traffic slows down dramatically and that probably helps, too, he said.

Kearns said other factors could include the fact that newer, safer cars with air bags are steadily replacing older ones on the road, an increased law enforcement emphasis on speeding and use of seat belts and the fact that the issue of safety on U.S. 19 was in the news a lot.

Kearns thinks that getting the word out about pool safety also has helped reduce the number of drownings and the number of incidents where 911 is called because someone has gone under water. Those dropped from 77 in 1999 to 50 last year.

Kearns, who started his career as a beach lifeguard, said the county spends about $18,000 annually mailing safety literature twice a year to swimming pool owners in Pinellas County.

"When the public education stopped for a while, we saw the numbers increase," he said. The next mailing should go out by Memorial Day, since drownings go up during the summer.

EMS officials say pool owners should keep telephones by their pools and place multiple layers of precautions between children and pools. That means placing gate latches or door locks high enough that toddlers can't reach them, having fences around pools, installing electronic proximity alarms that go off when someone approaches the pool or floating alarms that sound when the water's surface is rippled.

In drowning cases among adults, "almost in every case, alcohol is involved," Kearns said.

[Last modified May 15, 2004, 01:00:35]

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