Low Acuity

The Low Acuity Alarm Program started in July 2016, with two main objectives: improve unit availability and provide enhanced service to individuals calling with lower acuity complaints. The program has two full-time employees: a program manager and a case manager.

Major activities include:

  • Outreach and engagement with high-utilizing individuals. Initial analysis shows a reduction in calls from individuals served by this program.
  • Education, training, and resources for high-utilizing locations such as homeless shelters, assisted living facilities, medical clinics, and senior living. This approach has demonstrated year-over-year call reductions.
  • In-depth data analysis including low acuity trends, city-wide patterns, and location breakdowns.
  • Establishing working relationships with similar programs from neighboring fire departments, healthcare services, Seattle and King County government agencies, nonprofits, and others.


In May 2014, the Low Acuity Alarm Task Force was created to investigate and provide recommendations on how to address the growing burden of non-emergent or lower acuity responses by the department. In 2015, the Task Force developed a Blueprint that described action steps necessary to implement a formal Low Acuity Alarm Program. The Blueprint reviewed historical data on lower acuity alarms, surveyed other jurisdictions to identify successful low acuity alarm strategies, and proposed ten recommendations.

Low Acuity

What is a low acuity alarm? A low acuity alarm is a fire department call for service that does not present an immediate danger to life, health, or property. Low acuity alarms can be medical in nature, such as minor pain or flu-like symptoms, or fire-related, such as a malfunctioning smoke detector.

Why are low acuity alarms an issue? Units responding to low acuity alarms are committed to that incident, and are therefore unavailable for fires, rescues, or serious medical emergencies. In addition to making SFD units unavailable for true emergencies, low acuity alarms are often resolved with unnecessary transport to hospital emergency departments, which stresses the medical system and may not provide the right level of care for the patient’s complaint.

How are other jurisdictions addressing the problem? Fire departments around the country are experimenting with many strategies to cope with these incidents. Some departments are using “community paramedics,” who visit patients outside of 9-1-1 calls and help them manage their medical conditions. Others use dedicated low acuity or mobile integrated health response teams, while some are investing in more resources in their 9-1-1 centers to better triage and direct non-emergency calls.

How do I get assistance for someone who is reliant on 9-1-1? If you know someone who is or is becoming reliant on 9-1-1 and you believe that abuse, neglect, or self-neglect are involved, you can call Washington DSHS at 1-866-END-HARM (363-4276) or use their online reporting form. General queries regarding low acuity responses and assistance for citizens can be directed to the SFD Low Acuity Alarm Program at (206) 233-7109.

Where can I get information about non-emergency resources? The best one-stop-shop for information in the Seattle area is 2-1-1. You can call 2-1-1 toll free during business hours, or visit www.211.org or go directly to King County 2-1-1 at http://crisisclinic.org/find-help/2-1-1-resources-and-information/. This resource provides information about healthcare, education, housing, disabilities, transportation, employment and financial assistance, food banks, immigrant issues, legal assistance, LGBTQ support, and aging.

For mental health support, you can call the King County Crisis Line 24/7 at 866-427-4747, or the Warm Line at 877-500-WARM (9276).

For questions relating to addiction and recovery, call 866-789-1511, 24/7.

For questions around aging, caregiver support, and disabilities, visit http://www.agingkingcounty.org/ or call (206) 684-0152.

For non-medical assistance, the SPD non-emergency line is (206) 625-5011.

What should I do if I see someone lying or sleeping on the ground outside? SFD recommends a 9-1-1 call only if the individual appears to be in distress. If the person appears in pain, unresponsive, or not breathing normally, call 9-1-1. If you are unsure, we recommend asking the person if they are ill or need assistance. Someone who is simply sleeping does not require a 9-1-1 call. More detailed information on resources for homeless individuals can be found in the brochures at: https://crisisclinic.org/education/emergency-services-brochures/.