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What Slows Down Emergency Responders When Every Second Counts

NBC’s Tom Costello goes to the front lines as the 911 calls come in, the alert tones go off, and the sirens scream to "get out of the way."
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Every day across the country, firefighters and paramedics respond to urgent calls for help. But many of those responders say it’s taking longer to make their way through congested streets and past inattentive drivers. There are simply more pedestrians, more drivers, more distractions, and more cars that are nearly sound-proof — making it hard to hear a siren.

Riding along with fire departments in Chicago, Boston, Montgomery County, Maryland and Orange County, California, NBC News mounted GoPro cameras on rigs to see what they’re up against as they respond to emergencies.

We saw fire trucks stuck in intersections with heavy pedestrian traffic, drivers who refused to move over for fear of missing a turn, motorists who seemed paralyzed — unable to move over for paramedic units — and many more delays that cost emergency responders precious seconds.

We’ve all heard that “every second counts,” but what does that mean? A fire can double in size every minute, so modern firefighting tactics call for a big initial response to “hit it hard and fast,” according to Boston Fire Commissioner Joe Finn.

And paramedics must defibrillate someone in cardiac arrest within just a few minutes if the patient is to have any chance of survival.

So, an extra thirty seconds stuck in traffic can truly put a life in danger.

“What if it were your child who needed help,” said one firefighter-paramedic. “You’d want us there as fast as possible.”