SIKESTON -- Area residents who don't have their homes properly marked may be threatening their lives should they ever need emergency assistance.
While police are usually able to assist in a city when residences can't be found, when it comes to rural areas, ambulance personnel often have a hard time locating residences.
"There's been lots of times when we've gone past houses," said Ralph Barnwell, New Madrid County Ambulance District coordinator. "It's just wasted vital time, and it happens more often than we'd like to see."
In a week's time New Madrid County Ambulance District averages 70 ambulance runs at both day and night, Barnwell said. He estimated the ambulance district has difficulty finding one-third of the rural calls received in the county.
"When we travel 13-14 miles one way, it gets really frustrating not knowing if you've bypassed a road, and we've done that lots of times because we didn't know if we should turn or not," Barnwell said.
But New Madrid County isn't alone.
Since Scott County implemented its Emergency 911 system six years ago, addresses were renamed in the rural areas and several residents have yet to mark their homes or change their house numbers, noted Joe Burton, administrator for Scott County E-911 and emergency management director.
Jim Culbertson, paramedic for Mississippi County Ambulance District, said they also experience difficulties locating rural residences.
Barnwell admitted it's hard to determine if lives have been lost due to bad directions or unmarked residences. But he does know because of this, the ambulance district has had delayed response times and difficulty finding addresses. Herman Sadler, administrator of South Scott County ambulance, pointed out lost minutes can result in a life or death situation.
"For example, if you have a person with cardiac arrest, you have approximately six minutes to work with the person from the time they go down before irreversible brain damage sets in, and if can't get to them in a timely manner, there's a chance to be as we call brain dead. So it's very important," Sadler explained.
In some cases, other residents have heard the emergency calls on their scanners and called in to the dispatchers to provide more detailed directions to the ambulance's destination, Barnwell noted, adding that the district is grateful for that.
But there are several things both city and rural residents can do to ensure ambulance drivers arrive in a timely manner during an emergency situation.
"Basically the big thing is to have their 911 house number posted on their house. That's the big major problem. In Scott County, it's easier (to locate) because we run a mapping system and it automatically locates them on the map. But if they don't have houses numbered, it can slow things down," Burton noted.
Burton recommended if a mailbox is located 25 feet at the end of a lane, as long as it's visible, numbers can be posted on both sides of the mailbox. But if it is farther than that, a post with the address needs to be put up, he said.
"My guideline is numbers need to be 6 inches on the house, and the real guidelines are if you can stand in the street and read the numbers, they're OK. If you can't do that, then they're too little. Also use reflective numbers," Burton suggested.
Another recommendation is if calling from a phone other than the location of the emergency, tell the dispatchers, Burton said.
"If you dial 911 from a cell phone or another place, the address we get is from that phone number," Burton said. "If you're calling for your mother, say that and then tell us where she is."
If possible, have someone go to the end of a road with a vehicle if they live far off the main county road, Sadler recommended.
Culbertson advised when calling 911, alerting the dispatcher of any distinguishing characteristics near the home or on the route to the home is helpful.
Barnwell also recommended the following tips:
-- Never assume ambulance personnel know the name and exact location of your home or side roads or alleys. Identify specific road names and recognizable landmarks which can serve as visual signposts.
-- If the emergency occurs during the evening, turn on all lights inside the house and outside the home. If there is a vehicle in the driveway, turn on the flashing hazard lights so ambulance personnel can see it.
-- Before an emergency occurs, it is smart to develop a map and write directions down from your home to the ambulance base. These directions should be posted near each phone in the house for easy immediate access.
-- Farmers working in fields should also know their exact location and designate someone else to know the information in case an emergency does occur.
-- The dispatch number for all emergency calls is 911; nonemergency dispatch numbers are: Mississippi County, 683-6207; New Madrid County, 748-5226; South Scott County, 472-4161; and Scott County E-911, 262-2070.