COUNTY — “CPR in progress.”

So goes the dispatch for an ambulance. The patient is not breathing and has no pulse. With lights and sirens the ambulance heads out, finds the road and then spends the next 10 minutes traveling up and down the road.

It’s a rural road and although there are numerous driveways and houses, there are no visible numbers indicating which one is the correct address. Finally, after a few false stops, the ambulance finds the patient.

Emergency medical personnel are greeted with “He was breathing a few minutes ago – what took you so long!”  the anguish in the woman’s voice is clear but the medics had done all they could … once they found the right address.

“And, being the providers we are, we take the blame, wishing we had been able to find the house sooner,” says PACE Director Robert Hand.

“I’m sorry, we got here as fast as we could – we’re going to do the best we can.”

We own the blame, he says, but we think about how the neighbors had no numbers on their homes.  “The mailbox at the home we responded to was sitting on its side on top of a snowbank.  No numbers visible.  We drove by and had to find a place to turn around.  We knew we were close … .”

And this is not a problem just for ambulances.

“I can recall one such event when responding to an active domestic situation with an assault taking place. As I neared the location there were several residences that were unmarked and it took many additional minutes to find the residence with multiple officers searching,” recalls Oxford Police Captain Rickie Jack. “Many times these events can mean life and death, especially where a person is suffering from a stroke or a heart attack. As with many things people don’t see the importance until it directly affects them which, in some cases, can then be too late.”

“One of the biggest challenges we face here are homes which have been converted into multi-unit apartment buildings,” Paris Detective Sergeant Michael Dailey noted.”The individual apartments are often not numbered and this has resulted in going door-to-door until the correct resident is located.  Additionally some of these addresses  have multiple buildings on the same property.  There are times when these buildings have apartment locations which are in no way sequential and there is not a single common point of entry which adds to the confusion of where a specific apartment may be located.”

“You are not likely to find any fire, EMS or law enforcement officer anywhere in this County who doesn’t have a story of frustration trying to find an address when seconds are ticking away,” says Cpl. Dan Hanson of the Maine State Police. “It’s very scary for us and all involved.”

“I was dispatched to a reported assault to a female at a rural address in Andover,” he recalls. “The victim and the offender both needed rescue for injuries.  In this area the residences are not close together and due to the cold conditions the victim did not try to go to another residence for help.  A house number was received through the 911 system but due to there being no numbers visible not only for the address of the assault but also all the residences in the area we struggled to find where we needed to be.

“After traveling back and forth in the area for at least an extended 10-minute period the victim had to come out to the roadway to flag me down before we could get help to her.  It was more than just the one address that was the issue, had even one of the addresses in the area had numbers out it could have helped narrow down the likely location.”

State police  Lt. Kyle Tilsley offered this recollection.

“An older female who fell and needed rescue was reported in Woodstock.  The female was alone and there was no one to go out to the roadway and help direct services to the address.  When responders got to the area there were no numbers on any of the addresses in the neighborhood.  The ambulance and the trooper began going door to door trying to located the residence and the female in medical distress.  The delay in getting emergency services to the call was significantly extended.  The address once located had no markings by the roadway to even indicate there was a residence on the long driveway and had been suspected to be a woods road by responders.”

“As you guessed, there have been numerous times, and still are numerous times in the 18 years that I have been dispatching that police, fire, and EMS have difficulty finding homes because they aren’t marked clearly,” state police dispatcher Jeff Clark offers .

“Homes that are not marked clearly obviously poses a problem in all of those situations, as you are expecting someone to get to you in a hurry and wonder what is taking so long. As anyone who has ever had to call 911 can imagine, the seconds feel like hours, so it makes it seem like the help will never arrive. This worry can sometimes cause callers to panic, which worsens the situation on the other end of the line/at the scene, as well as for the dispatcher who has to, again, try to calm the caller.

“Coupling all of that, with the fact that the dispatcher will often have to start asking questions not related to what is going on at the residence, because they have to get a better house description for responders, will add even more frustration to the caller’s already upset state.

“Clearly marking buildings, not only to include homes but any business that you would expect to need an emergency response at, is paramount to the success of first responders to do their jobs better.”

“The greatest leap forward in finding an address since I began running on an ambulance is GPS,” says Hand.  “Prior to that, I thumbed through a Maine Gazetteer like everyone else.  On the ambulances, we still have “map books” with detailed directions of the towns we cover – ‘Exit the station to Winter Street and take a right on Fair Street….’  Step by step to where ever we are going.  We try to give ourselves every advantage when it comes to helping someone in need …  but unfortunately, GPS is far from 100 percent.”

Hand suggests that people ought to put their address into GPS when they are leaving Walmart, the local gas station, or restaurant and see what might happen on what could be the worst night of their life.  He says to be sure to try it from different ends of town.

“If the GPS lands you directly in front of your house consistently, then you are one of the lucky few in Maine,” he notes. “In most cases, it can get you to your road, then perhaps politely but incessantly tells you to turn left into a field a few hundred yards from your house.  Sometimes, it takes you on roads that are not the fastest way, or perhaps are closed at certain times of the year.  Maybe there is not even a road where it says there should be?  Where ever that pleasant little voice takes you is likely where the ambulance is going to go too.

“Fifteen or 20 years ago, the people responding on the ambulance were probably from your town, or very close by.  They probably grew up here.  Everyone knew everyone!  When you said, “The white barn by the big tree on 26 that lightening struck that time,” most people in town knew exactly where you meant.  That is not the case anymore.  About a quarter of the responders at PACE are from our coverage area but many commute from outside of our district.  They are from Poland, Limington, Standish, Portland, Lewiston, Auburn, Gorham … all over.  They are no less dedicated than the local folks, it is just how EMS has changed over the years.  It’s a profession and they are coming to Western Maine to work.  They are all highly skilled providers that have a general knowledge of the area and they want to help you, but they need your help too.”

Hand offers another exercise to understand the issue.

“Doing the speed limit, on your way home, try to make out the addresses of your neighbors on your road.  My guess is that you can’t on one out of every five.  Some are on the house, some on the mail box, some you have no idea, some are missing the first or last number, some are 1-inch-tall and can’t be read on a clear day standing still 20 feet away.

“Now imagine doing that at night, maybe you’ve never been on this road in your life, lights flashing, siren and radio blaring, dispatch tells you the caller wants to know your ETA and says the patient is getting worse, the GPS is telling you to turn left into a field and recalculating, your partner is trying to read off house numbers and use the map book, the strobe lights are reflected in the falling snow, someone needs help right now, you are moving as fast as you can, the road is bumpy, curvy, and slick – how well you can make out a neighbor’s address, or your own, may save the life of a loved one or yourself some day.

“I have been on the on the other side of this conversation, seeing the pain on the family’s face and knowing I may have missed an opportunity to make a difference – I am sure it sticks with all emergency responders like it does me.”

 

Help us help you  

Is your house clearly numbered?

Can responders see your house from the road?

Can your numbers be seen at night?

If you answered “no”to any of the above questions and you are a resident of Oxford County, you can get free assistance getting an address number on your home.

Or, says Sarah Dailey, of the Elder Abuse Task Force which helps its demographic be safe, “if you have house numbers that you’ve been meaning to get put up, please do that as soon as possible, before you have an emergency. If you need help either with getting numbers or putting them up, please contact your local Fire Department, police, or Town Office. We many be able to help, and have been working with emergency services to get homes labeled properly.”

Residents can also go online to www.Oxfordaddress.org and fill out a simple form. Someone will be in touch as soon as possible to discuss what is needed. For more information: [email protected]