Maui County paramedics know that in their line of work, a few minutes can sometimes mean the difference between life and death.
A recently approved rapid response vehicle, which would be based in Maalaea and operate around the clock, may help emergency medical technicians in West and South Maui districts cut response times significantly and better prioritize their resources, state officials said.
The measure, Senate Bill 498, sailed through both chambers of the Legislature earlier this week and now will go to Gov. Neil Abercrombie's desk for final approval.
If approved by the governor, the county will receive state funding for a special emergency medical response vehicle equipped with "appropriate life-saving, emergency response equipment and staffed by a state-certified paramedic," according to the bill.
Calls for out-of-district responses by EMT units, especially in West and South Maui, have increased 25 percent over the past four years, according to the bill. There are currently two ambulances in West Maui and two in South Maui, and it may take 45 minutes or more to transport a patient to the hospital if the responding EMTs must travel from an out-of-district location, according to the bill.
"If a call comes in and the ambulances in Lahaina and Napili are already out or not available, units have to come from Kahului or Kihei to try to cover that," said Dr. Linda Rosen, chief of the state Emergency Medical Services and Injury Prevention Branch.
"That's where the rapid response unit will help cover, and Maalaea is a very good position," said Rosen, referring to Maalaea's central location between the two districts. The unit is expected to be able to arrive at calls in the West, South or Central Maui Districts in 15 minutes or less.
While the rapid response vehicle will not be transporting patients, it will be the first to arrive at the scene and provide advanced life-support care if resident ambulances are out of the district.
"A lot of times, it's more important to get there quicker and start medical attention than how soon you get (the patient) to the hospital. So even though it's not a transporting unit, it can still provide increased service," said Rosen.
The rapid response vehicle will cost about $600,000, which is half the $1.2 million expense of an advanced life-support ambulance unit. Funding will come from the state Department of Health's emergency medical services special funds, according to Rosen.
South and West Maui state Sen. Roz Baker, who introduced the measure in the Senate, said that the passage of this bill was a big success for Maui County this legislative session.
"There's only two (EMT) units in West Maui and two in South Maui, so if all units are out, then you're left uncovered," said Baker.
She added that having this rapid response vehicle would allow the other units to better prioritize their resources. For example, she said, if a caller just needed medical attention and did not need to be transported to a hospital, the rapid response unit could be sent instead of an EMT unit.
"It's just another way to make the best use of our emergency service personnel," said Baker.
Maui paramedics said this is the "good news" they have been waiting to hear for years. The last time new ambulance units were added on Maui was 2004.
"That whole area of Maalaea, there's no fire station or ambulance, and there's lots of visitors and residents in that area," said Curt Morimoto, Maui operations manager for American Medical Response.
An ambulance stationed in Kihei would take about 12 minutes to respond to a call in Maalaea, whereas this response unit, situated right in Maalaea, would take five to 10 minutes, said Morimoto.
"So this is definitely good news," said Morimoto. "It's just a matter of when the funding will kick in."
* Eileen Chao can be reached at email@example.com.