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Farmington fire, police pilot program for ‘down subject calls’

Farmington Fire Department Station One Capt. Mike Stahl, left, and Farmington Police Department District Coordinator Ofc. Kris Chavez, right, attend to a down subject in Farmington. (Daily Times)

FARMINGTON – The Farmington Fire and Police departments are piloting a new program to free up resources by efficiently responding to reported “down subject calls” that might require medical assistance.

The Alternative Response Unit is a program where a firefighter with EMT training and a police officer are paired together, and respond to down subject calls, according to Farmington police Sgt. Roque Velarde.

Velarde said a down subject call occurs when the member of the public who calls dispatch is not willing or is unable to approach the unresponsive person. He added usually there is no information on the unresponsive person’s medical status.

This type of call involves an officer being dispatched to the scene, along with an EMS unit with two paramedics and a fire unit with three personnel aboard to determine if medical treatment is needed.

The ARU is aimed at reducing the number of personnel and units required to respond to such calls, according to Farmington Fire Department Capt. Brandon Heard.

“We recognize this as an option to increase our efficiency and still provide resources for the community by leaving other resources available for calls for service,” Heard said.

The ARU focuses on the firefighter performing a medical assessment to figure the needs of the person.

The firefighter uses equipment provided by the San Juan Regional Medical Center ambulance service.

The unit then determines how to proceed, including calling an ambulance if needed or transporting the person to the Sobering Center, Velarde said.

Velarde said, based upon his experience, many of these calls tend to involve an intoxicated subject.

“We wouldn’t want to ignore a potential medical emergency by assuming it’s an intoxicated person,” Velarde said.

Down subject calls accounted for about 29 percent of the calls for service for Farmington Fire from October 2017 to May 2018, according to Velarde.

In the same time frame, down subject calls accounted for about 3 percent of Farmington Police’s calls for service.

The unit operates Wednesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. as part of the pilot.

Heard said that is when Farmington fire personnel are the busiest in terms of down subject calls.

Preliminary information from the first full month of operation shows the unit contacted an average of 30 people per day, Heard said. The program started on July 11.

About 22 of those 30 people contacted were fine and did not require service.

About four to five people were transported to the Sobering Center and one person on average was transported to the San Juan County Adult Detention Center.

The pilot program is set to run for a year until the end of June 2019.

Farmington police and fire plan to examine the data and figure out where to go with the program, Velarde said.