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Calling 911 in Charlotte? Your ambulance might show up without lights and sirens.

4 Jan 2023 1:02 PM | Matt Zavadsky (Administrator)

We did a fact check with John Peterson, the Executive Director for MEDIC on this statement in the article –

Peterson said less than 1% of Medic’s 13,000 calls in the past year required patients to be transported as high-priority.”

John stated that less than 1% of their SIERRA protocol 911 calls receive a high-priority transport. 

MEDIC’s SIERRA protocol is their 9-1-1 ALPHA and OMEGA emergency medical dispatch response determinants that have a response time goal of 90% in under 60 minutes.


Calling 911 in Charlotte? Your ambulance might show up without lights and sirens.


DECEMBER 14, 2022


Medic told county commissioners Tuesday about a plan to use lights and sirens less often.

Mecklenburg’s EMS agency is proposing a quieter, dimmer and slower way to get some patients treatment in the new year. Medic on Tuesday proposed to county commissioners decreasing lights and siren use from 76% to 19% of 911 responses. That means limiting use to life-threatening situations such as anaphylactic shock or a gunshot wound. The change is expected to occur in the first quarter of 2023.

Medic Executive Director John Peterson said many responses originally labeled life-threatening, with ambulances using lights and sirens, end up not requiring transportation to a hospital.

Lights and sirens can get first responders to a patient between 42 seconds and 3.8 minutes faster than without them — enough time to save a life in a potentially deadly emergency.

But Peterson said the saved time isn’t worth the crash risk if the patient’s life isn’t in danger.

Using lights and sirens can increase the risk of traffic accidents by 50% according to a study by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Peterson said this often happens when a driver doesn’t see other drivers moving over for an ambulance or fire truck and tries to pass through an intersection on a green light like normal, resulting in a collision with the emergency vehicle.

This year, Medic dispatched 76% of its total calls as life-threatening. Just 5% were determined to actually be life-threatening. Thirty-five percent of patients who called weren’t transported to the hospital at all.

Mecklenburg County documents Commissioners asked how Medic determines whether an incident is life-threatening. Commissioner Susan Rodriguez-McDowell asked if pain is accounted for when determining dispatch speed.

Medic representatives said first responders know the difference between injuries and are trained to respond based on notes from the initial call for service. “Fire units have the ability to upgrade calls and request lights and sirens if they feel that there is a medically necessary reason to do so,” Peterson said.


Mecklenburg County will be the first in North Carolina to reduce its lights and siren usage in this way, Peterson said. Commissioners said they feared it will take time for the public to get adjusted.

“When you’re in an emergency room, you can see other emergencies and you can physically see what’s more important and what’s more of an emergency than what’s happening to yourself,” commissioner Laura Meier said. “But when you’re calling 911, it’s an emergency to you.”

Not understanding why a 911 response is taking a long time may result in unhappy customers, Meier said. Peterson said less than 1% of Medic’s 13,000 calls in the past year required patients to be transported as high-priority.


One part of responses is how quickly dispatchers answer the phone — and Charlotte is responding below industry standard. Industry standard for 911 call centers is to pick up 90% of calls within 10 seconds.

Right now, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police dispatchers answer only 60% of calls within the time frame. In Charlotte, 10% of calls take longer than a minute to answer.

CMPD’s call center shortages fit into a national trend, Deputy Chief David Robinson told the Charlotte City Council Monday. CMPD currently has 124 telecommunicators and needs 20 more to fully staff its call center, Robinson said.

Robinson said CMPD is implementing the following measures to retain staff:

  • Increased hiring bonus from $2,000 to $4,000
  • Created additional promotion opportunities
  • 1% retention bonus for employees in July and September
  • 5% pay increase across the board week of Dec. 5
  • 2.5% shift differential for afternoon/midnight shifts Jan. 2023
  • 2.5% increase for secondary language
  • 4% salary increase Jan. 2023

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