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Dual Dispatch Effectiveness in Improving Outcomes

As emergency responders, most of us have assisted with a dual dispatch call. While the public may not know why so many emergency responders are sent to a scene, those in emergency response can attest to better outcomes in critical cases when more hands are available to help. 

Because dual dispatch is often seen in critical emergencies, the most common and consistent tend to be cardiac emergencies, 383,000 of which occur annually.1 While this form of response has shown to be effective in increasing positive patient outcomes, dual dispatch situations can also cause confusion. 

Here’s what EMS professionals, including fire service-based EMS, should know about dual dispatch emergencies and how to work together across agencies for the best patient outcomes. 

Why Dual Dispatches Happen

Cardiac emergencies are some of the most life-threatening and yet most common emergencies that first responders will face in the field. According to the American Heart Association, 475,000 Americans die from cardiac arrest each year, more than car accidents, HIV, firearms, house fires, the flu, pneumonia, prostate cancer, breast cancer, and colorectal cancer combined.1

The American Heart Association also states that more than 350,000 cardiac arrests occur outside of a hospital, and 90 percent of those individuals pass away from the event.1

In these instances, when CPR is administered immediately, the patient’s chance of survival can double or even triple. That’s why dual dispatch is becoming more and more common. The goal is to reduce response times to OHCAs, leading to quicker CPR delivery and other life-saving measures like defibrillation, according to the American Heart Association, and this is best done in cases where dual dispatch has become commonplace.1

Effectiveness of Dual Dispatch

Research into dual dispatch effectiveness is still new, but initial results are promising. Overall, studies show that response time decreases when both trained firefighters or police are dispatched with EMT or other EMS professionals.2

The most publicized study on dual dispatch was carried out in Houston, Texas. It took into account 6,961 OHCA emergencies between May 2008 and April 2013. The study found that firefighters arrived first to the scene in a dual dispatch emergency 46.7 percent of the time, typically beating EMS to the scene by 1.5 minutes.3

Though this decrease in response time may seem small, it correlated to a 20.1 percent increase in the probability of return of spontaneous circulation (ROSC) for all heart rhythms and a 47.7 percent increase for cases where ventricular fibrillation was administered.3

Thanks to more trained hands, eyes, and ears at the scene, survival rates can improve dramatically and can promote better recoveries. 

Working Across Agencies

Since the likelihood of dual dispatch becoming a common policy in many cities is high, it’s important that firefighters, police officers, and other EMS professionals learn to work together effectively during an OHCA incident. 

The first agency to arrive takes the lead in administering CPR and other basic life support (BLS) and advanced life support (ALS) care. The second agency should provide support as needed. Firefighters should act on the advice of EMS and medical providers when determining how to transport a patient to the hospital.

It may be helpful for leadership from the various industries in your jurisdiction to meet together and discuss concerns and protocols. This is especially critical for departments to function smoothly and effectively, especially during mass casualty incidents. After a dual dispatch cardiac emergency, leadership should debrief their respective first responders and gather feedback on the experience to improve future cooperation. Communicating and working together regularly between departments can help improve patient outcomes in your community.


  1. CPR & First Aid. CPR facts and stats. American Heart Association. Date unknown. Accessed March 6, 2020. https://cpr.heart.org/en/resources/cpr-facts-and-stats.
  2. NETC Library. Dual dispatch to cardiac arrest: can it save lives? U.S. Fire Administration. Dec. 20, 2018. https://www.usfa.fema.gov/current_events/122018.html.
  3. Raun L. Infographic: Effectiveness of dual dispatch to cardiac arrest policy. JPHMP Direct. Sept. 21, 2018. https://jphmpdirect.com/2018/09/21/infographic-dual-dispatch-ohca/.
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