Polk fire chief: Leave 911 calls only for most serious emergencies

If you need an ambulance, you want one to arrive as quickly as possible. In Polk County, COVID-19 is causing "significant delays," according to the fire chief, who is asking residents to only call 911 for serious emergencies.

Polk County’s Fire Chief Robert Weech is asking residents to "temper" their use of the 911 system as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to strain emergency medical resources.

"If you can avoid using the 911 system, this is a good time to do that," Chief Weech said. "The system is under strain. Certainly, if you have an emergency, stroke, heart attack or if you have an accident, certainly call 911. But if you have other ways of getting medical care, you need to exhaust those at this time so that we can deal with those bigger emergencies."

County officials say people who have COVID-19, or think they have the virus, are calling 911 for an ambulance. That's a big mistake according to Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd.

"That ambulance needs to be saved for vehicle crashes, heart attacks, strokes, major events that can cause you to die in moments," he told FOX 13. "COVID is a dangerous virus, but it is not something you need an ambulance for." 

RELATED Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center to postpone all elective surgeries

County 911 operators are now getting 1,000 calls a day -- a 40% increase over what operators normally handle.

That leads to additional wait times for ambulances waiting to transfer patients to hospitals and also means a delay in response times to certain parts of the county.

"Right now, while our system is being taxed, we are still holding up and able to provide our normal level of service," Weech added. "We just ask that, under the circumstances, if it isn’t an absolute emergency to find another way for medical care other than calling 911."

RELATED: Bay Area hospital update: Unvaccinated COVID-19 patients filling beds

Meanwhile, neighboring Pasco County’s emergency responders have reached the point where they have to triage for life-and-death emergencies due to COVID-19.

Pasco County Fire Chief Scott Cassin says not to call 911 unless you or a loved one is dying.