Arrive Alive

Emergency Services Communications

We have all driven past an accident scene or witnessed the flashing lights of an ambulance heading towards the scene of an accident or other medical emergency.

The first hour of response is most important and is commonly known as “The Golden Hour”. Emergency medical services have stressed the importance of the Golden Hour where a patient needs to be seen by a specialist within 60 minutes from his or her injury. Decisions taken during this time are extremely important to the final outcome for the injured patient.

Have you ever considered the importance of effective communication between those at the scene of the accident, the emergency call centre and the paramedics heading to the scene?



We decided to raise a few important questions with our emergency medical partner ER24:

  • How do paramedics communicate between the ambulance, on-scene responders/ attendees, ER24 office and hospitals..?
  • When the paramedics traveling in the ambulance rush to the scene – what is communicated to them to best prepare themselves?
  • Are they provided this information from the ER24 office or from the accident scene?
  • Which information would be most important to them?
  • How can people communicating from the scene best help the paramedics/?
  • Once a patient is treated at the scene - what gets communicated from the scene  -? How are decisions as to hospitals, trauma assistance made and the next steps enquired?
  • What are the tools of communication used?
  • Any other information on communication that could assist readers to find more info?



Response from ER24

There are many ways emergency personnel can communicate with other emergency vehicles and/or their dispatch centers. One the most common ways is a two-way radio system. More often you will find that emergency services move away from your standard two-way radio communication and move over to a digital communication platform with more features. One such system is the PTT (Push-to-Talk) System. The benefits of the digital platforms are endless as the radio can double up as an instant message device or a cellular phone.

Some digital devices looks like a cellular phone and some of them still look like the conventional two-way radio, however the programming and features are completely different.

In the past emergency services provided local hospitals with a base station radio where they can listen in to communications and be aware if they are about to receive a patient.

Majority of the hospital base stations have been stopped due to the digital platforms. It is also more expensive to run these digital platforms but the voice quality and reception have increased dramatically from your normal line of sight and repeater based systems.

One of the downfalls of the old systems was that anyone could listen to the communication if they have the frequency and a programmable radio. Another reason why the base stations were removed from hospitals is the fact that there are so many different services in South Africa, that a hospital will end up with a full radio control room just to monitor the different channels.

Hospitals will now be notified of incoming patients via the Emergency Contact Centre over a recorded line.

Once a call is logged with the Emergency Contact Centre the caller will receive an acknowledgment SMS. The call is then digitally transferred to the dispatch agent for the area and the crew will be dispatched via SMS as well as two-way radio.

Information relayed to the crew would be anything that could prepare them, i.e. physical address, who the caller on scene is, landmarks, what is happening on scene, how many patients and a caller’s description of injuries on scene. This also helps in making informed decisions on what resources to dispatch.

The physical address of the incident is probably the most important piece of information as well as a crossroad and landmark if possible. It would be pointless to know what exactly is happening on the scene but you do not know where it is or where to go.

A caller should first state their name and surname and identify that they would like to log an emergency call such as an accident, heart attack etc. The second most important thing would be to provide your contact number in case the line gets disconnected. The emergency call taker can then contact the caller back.

The caller should state clearly where the incident is and give as much information about the location as possible, i.e. the accident is on the N1 highway approximately two kilometers before the Malibongwe off ramp in the direction of Roodepoort (or direction South).

The caller should also state how many vehicles are involved and how many patients they can see. Can they identify anyone that is trapped and if possible what type of vehicles are involved, is it a truck, motorbike, car, hazardous vehicle etc.

Paramedics that transport the patient from the scene relay an update through to the Emergency Contact Centre. The paramedics will identify the receiving hospital and the Emergency Contact Centre will then update the hospital on the patient’s condition on the scene. This does not always happen and is usually reserved for critical patients and helicopter requests.



What do we need to know about making that emergency call?

There is always the question of why call takers in the emergency service industry ask so many questions; and when do they actually dispatch emergency resources to the scene of an accident or other emergency.

We would also like to share some info previously shared on the Car Insurance Blog:

When you are faced with a medical emergency and require realhelprealfast you can phone 084 124 on 084 124 for fast and efficient emergency response.

When you place a call through to the ER24 24/7 Contact Centre, an automated voice response will greet you and identify the line as ER24 Emergency Services, this takes about five seconds.

The first available emergency call taker will then answer your call and request certain details of the incident in order to dispatch the correct resources to the scene.

The following information is essential for fast and effective emergency resource management:

  • Identify yourself and provide a call back number
  • Clearly state the nature of the emergency and how many people were involved.
  • Provide an address of the incident:
  • What is the name of the road where this incident took place?
  • What is the building name or number where this incident took place?
  • What is the closest cross road?
  • What is the suburb?
  • What is the province?



Callers should keep in mind that we are a national Contact Centre and therefore require the province and suburb names in order to clearly map the incident.

ER24’s Immediate Dispatch system is able to dispatch vehicles to the incident whilst the call taker is still on the line. Thus the call taker can keep on talking to the caller to reassure, calm or provide medical advice whilst an ambulance is already en route to the incident.



We would also like to urge road users to better prepare themselves for an emergency and to equip themselves with lifesaving information.

Read more about emergency response on the crash scene by visiting the following sections:

Communication on the Scene of a Road Crash with Crash Victims

Safe Driving when Hearing Emergency Sirens

Safety on the Road when Responding to an Emergency Call

How to handle an Emergency

Emergency Response Time

Sharing the Roads Safely with Fire Fighters


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