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A Better Way to Save Lives

As budget constraints and sequestration put the squeeze on fire departments, there is a substantial risk that response times will creep up. In many cases, that can lead to more serious injuries, complications, or even death.

So how do you go about getting the response time down when there are some very real constraints? Well, in Israel, a group called United Hatzalah (meaning ‘rescue’ in Hebrew) cut the time for a first responder to arrive on scene from 12-15 minutes down to about 3. That’s a 75-80% reduction.

This group actually responded to over 200,000 calls in 2012, with more than 40,000 of them being life threatening.

So how did they do it? With right-sized equipment and a 2,000 person strong volunteer force. The premise is simple. The volunteers are provided with a fleet of small vehicles, including cars, motorcycles, tractors, and boats. These are equipped with basic medical equipment including defibrillators, breathing tubes, maternity kits, and more. One of the big advantages of the motorcycles is that they don’t get slowed by traffic as much as full sized response vehicles do.

The volunteers are given 300 hours of training, with the goal of stabilizing a patient until the EMTs can arrive. Rather than replacing professional first responders, this group is intended to cover the gap in time from 3 minutes to when the pros arrive. This idea obviously has legs. It has already spread to Brazil and Panama and will soon also have a presence in India.

I really love two things about this. The first is that it applies, probably unwittingly, Lean principles to a problem. The founder, Eli Beer, used right sized machines. He focused on metrics and problem solved to close the gap. He created new equipment to fit a need rather than let the equipment drive the process. He had to deal with change management getting this group integrated with emergency response systems.

The other thing I love is that it highlights the goodness in people. The volunteers come from all walks of life, and commit to dropping what they are doing to respond to others in need. I would have guessed that was pretty rare, but over 2,000 people do it. That’s comforting to me. I know people will step up and help others when there is a mass crisis. But humanity renews my faith in it when I hear about this sort of commitment to others.


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