DC Fire and EMS continues to push diversion program meant to reduce non-life threatening calls

WASHINGTON (FOX 5 DC) -- If you call 911 in the District, chances are you may not always get an ambulance.

"In the past, we would always have to transport no matter what," said Captain Richard Hall with Engine 2, in Chinatown. "It wasn't even a question of what the emergency was."

The fire department is one of many stations within the city that is working with the Right Care, Right Now nurse triage diversion program, meant to reduce calls that first responders don't always deem life-threatening.

"We are overtaxed and the emergency departments in the city are also overtaxed," said Dr. Robert Holman, medical director for D.C Fire and EMS.

He said that instead, patients are being diverted to clinics and rideshares as part of the diversion program that launched a little more than a year ago.

Holman said the city realizes that many people of the older generation may have some hesitations against the program but the hope is that the program will continue to change that habit and expose patients to the nurse line.

"We have been taught at a young age that if it's an emergency call 911," said Holman. "It's very difficult to change long-standing habits and so we are really trying to affect cultural change."

For Hall, the program means that his firefighters and ambulance medics can respond to more severe cases.

"I think it's important for the citizens to have confidence in the fire department that we are going to be there," said Hall. "And we are going to be available for when their grandmother goes into cardiac arrest."

Holman said that since the program was introduced, it has helped with directing at least 1,700 calls away from emergency care.

FOX 5 also inquired with the fire departments within Fairfax and Prince George's counties.

Mike Yourishin with Prince George's County's Fire Department said that the department does not have a similar program or policy to divert patients who call for transport. When an ambulance is called in in the county, the patient will be transported to a medical facility unless the patient refuses transport and signs a document stating their decision.