F-M Ambulance Saves Critical Time and Improves Quality with VPI

Customer: F-M Ambulance

Industry: Public Safety (Gov. Agency)

State: ND


Read how F-M Ambulance Service achieved 100% quality improvement with VPI's state-of-the-art digital call and radio recording solution.

Business Profile

The mission of F-M Ambulance Service is to provide compassionate and quality out-of-hospital care and transportation to the citizens of the Fargo-Moorhead metro area and other surrounding communities in North Dakota, while, at the same time, maintaining a commitment to excellence and continuous improvement.


As the largest ground ambulance provider in North Dakota, F-M Ambulance’s communication center routinely handles thousands of mission critical calls for ambulance service and wheelchair assistance every year. All calls are answered at three separate Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) & relayed to the communication center via radio or telephone. Because of this, a large portion of the communication center’s commitment to continuous improvement hinges upon the type of equipment they use to respond and react to these calls.

In addition to the Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) and System Status Management (SSM) software that they use to post the ambulance units throughout the area, F-M Ambulance realized the need to upgrade to a state-of-the-art recording solution that would easily integrate with their existing Nitsuko PBX and VHF Motorola radio.

VPI was not F-M Ambulance’s first recorder. Prior to VPI, they had been using an obsolete 20 channel reel-to-reel system to record their emergency dispatch telephone and radio channels. While the system recorded the calls, it was not very reliable, required a lot of real estate to store the recorder and its tapes, only offered F-M Ambulance a record retention of thirty days, and record retrieval and replay was time consuming and extremely cumbersome.

Considering the critical nature of its business and the growing number of calls that they receive every year, it was becoming more and more evident that their older recording system would have to be replaced with newer, better technology.


In late 2001, F-M Ambulance began the grueling task of researching manufacturers of recording solutions. When evaluating recording systems, F-M ambulance kept the following decision making factors in mind:

  • Flexibility - The recorder must offer F-M Ambulance the flexibility necessary to allow for easy, hands-on maintenance.
  • Ease and speed of search and retrieval - A database driven solution that would enable fast and easy record retrieval at a moment’s notice.
  • State-of-the-art technology - Records must be stored digitally on hard drives and DVDs – saving them precious space and offering a longer retention rate for their records.

Upon close examination of multiple recording solution vendors, F-M Ambulance chose to implement the VPI solution because it met the above standard requirements as well as offered them “a fair price,” said Mike Hall, Executive Director of F-M Ambulance Service. “We chose the VPI system because it offered us the flexibility to maintain our system ourselves. With VPI, we have the option of purchasing the media off the shelf and don’t have to pay high manufacturers’ price that most proprietary solution manufacturers require.”



Significant Benefits

The VPI solution provided F-M Ambulance Service with the optimal recording system to meet all of their needs and much more:

Hall appreciated the open architecture of the VPI solution. He explains, “An attractive feature of the VPI system was that we did not have to rely on VPI technicians to do the simple maintenance to our system. The fact that the server components and parts are available off-the-shelf allows us the luxury of purchasing replacement parts at our local computer supply house.”

VPI replaced the “old technology, large motors, relays, and nixie display tubes” that comprised the obsolete recorder that F-M Ambulance had become accustomed to managing. While most proprietary-hardware based solutions are sold by small dealers with limited resources and limited supply of replacement proprietary parts in stock, F-M Ambulance’s VPI system is software-driven, comprised of non-proprietary, commercially off the shelf components (COTS) from industry leaders. This design assures optional independency from VPI for system maintenance, technical support or backup purposes of system hardware since replacement components are available in virtually any high-end computer store.

Rapid and Easy Record Search and Retrieval F-M Ambulance’s previous recording system required a lot of hands-on manipulation to replay recorded conversations. As Hall stated, “You had to really force yourself to want to replay a call because it was such a chore.” Locating a call required the supervisor to first find the cassette tape from the day of the call, then run the lengthy indexing procedure for that tape (since there was no central call database) and then rewind the tape to find out if the call recording was even on the tape, as indicated by the index. If not, one had to just move on to the next tape, start the whole process over again, and hope that this was the right tape.

“There are many instances when it is essential that we pull up a call for replay at a moments notice. Our dispatchers often replay calls to check addresses or details of the call. Customers will call us to complain about response times.” Hall explained. “In circumstances like that, we do not have the time or patience to go through the lengthy process that our older recorder demanded of us. With VPI, I can retrieve, replay, and even send the customer a copy of the call right from my desktop quickly and easily. What used to require close to hour of time, now only takes seconds.”

Time is precious in an emergency situation. For this reason, VPI designed its solution to be the most intuitive and user-friendly system available on the market today. The VPI solution utilizes InterBase’s extremely powerful SQL database to deliver a true Client/Server solution. F-M Ambulance supervisors are able to search for calls based on multiple search criteria; date, time of call, channel number, agent ID, and many more. Once search parameters are selected, it’s a simple point and click operation to replay their desired calls. When retrieving calls for playback, the user-selected results are brought up instantaneously from the server, via a query sent from the client desktop. There is not file size limit to VPI’s database, which is imperative in a 100% recording environment like F-M Ambulance’s.

Managing Risk with State-of-the-Art Technology Prior to employing the VPI solution, F-M ambulance had to depend on large, obtrusive tapes with a thirty-day retention rate. “The tapes that we used to record our calls were really big, and because of that, we didn’t have the space to store hundreds of them. Instead, every thirty days, we would re-record over the tapes,” explains Hall. “It got to the point where whenever we needed to replay a call, because we had re-recorded over the tapes, the audio was horrible and the call was basically inaudible.” Also, F-M Ambulance was at a loss when someone would request a record older than 30 days. It just wasn’t there!

This became a big risk management issue. How could they manage liability when recordings were deleted after 30 days? With VPI, that is not a problem. Initial storage of a recording is to the logger’s internal logical drive labeled short-term storage. This logical drive is physically located on redundant, hot-swappable, RAID 1 hard drives, 80 GB or larger, which translates to tens of thousands of hours worth of internal on-line storage space, depending on what size hard drive is used. External Network Attached Storage (NAS) technology can be integrated to further expand this capacity and provide convenient instant access to millions of call records.

As a standard solution, the recordings are also periodically copied onto 9.4 GB DVD-RAM disks for archiving purposes. Each DVD-RAM holds over 1200 hours of recorded interactions. Call recordings can be archived every 30 minutes by default, or at any other predetermined time period. The VPI solution has offered F-M Ambulance the ability to store their data forever with not much physical storage space required.

All historical data information, which is located on the VPI recorder’s mirrored hard drives (even if the call is archived on removable media such as DVD-RAM), is kept in the SQL database for convenient access and review. During a search, if the call recordings no longer reside on the internal hard drive, the system immediately notifies the user which DVD-RAM to insert (i.e., insert Media #1101). Once inserted, the call recording is instantly retrieved. After quickly finding the required call the user has the option of sending the data via email or saving it to removable media (including floppy disk, hard-drive, CDR) or to any local network drive in any desired folder for sharing purposes.

Quality Improvement
Call records play an increasingly valuable role in dispatch center operations by serving as a tool for ensuring high levels of quality. F-M ambulance uses their recorded radio and phone transactions to gage its dispatchers’ response times and phone demeanors. Routinely, the quality improvement (QI) supervisor will pull random calls and listen to them to ensure that the dispatcher is following regulation.

Today, more public safety organizations are using call records as training tools. Supervisors use call records to place novice dispatchers in simulated real-life situations. This adds real-life dimension to the training process and enables the supervisor to evaluate how each dispatcher handles the call and their reaction timing. From there, both the supervisor and the dispatcher can get a better understanding of areas to target for further training. Additionally, with the VPI system, supervisors can remotely monitor a dispatcher’s conversation live or playback the call anytime after it has ended.

VPI understands the value of providing high customer service. This is why the VPI customer service staff is trained to listen and respond quickly to the needs of our customers. Mike Hall knows this first hand. “There was an instance that I needed help installing software on a machine that was giving me some trouble. VPI’s support personnel actually logged onto my machine via the Internet and made the change in a matter of minutes. Had I done the work myself, it could have taken hours.”

By using VPI’s digital voice recorder to record, store and retrieve its radio and phone calls, F-M Ambulance has realized numerous benefits – one of which is maintaining high levels of service. “Our ultimate mission is to provide our customers with the highest level of service – be it an ambulance call or a wheelchair assistance call. VPI is a terrific solution that makes it easy to ensure that we are keeping our customers happy.”