• Kyodo News

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The Tokyo Fire Department began a trial Friday of the nation’s first field triage program.

Ambulance paramedics will now assess patients directly, asking about symptoms and checking such vitals as breathing and level of consciousness.

If the paramedics determine a person is not in a life-threatening situation, they will put the person in touch with a private ambulance service.

The system is aimed at increasing the response time for people who need to get to a hospital right away. More people are calling ambulances for minor problems and almost everyone who calls is taken to a hospital, which has caused the response time to fall.

The fire department expects the triage program will reduce the number of ambulance transports by about 5,000 annually.

The program will run on a trial basis until next March and then it will begin in full.

The department also has started a 24-hour phone service to help people decide whether they need to call an ambulance.

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