DINWIDDIE COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Resources were stretched thin on March 6, according to Dinwiddie County Fire & EMS Chief Dennis Hale, whose team was called to Central State Hospital that day to assist with an unresponsive Irvo Otieno.

Speaking with 8News on Tuesday, Hale said that all four of the department’s ambulances were dispatched on March 6, covering the breadth of the county’s 500-plus square miles.

“The ambulances were very spread out. I mean, we have really good paramedics, we have really good resources, we have really good equipment, and unfortunately, one thing we can’t overcome is the sheer size of our county,” he said. “Believe me, we’re coming as fast as we can. But, sometimes, it’s just a long ways.”

From the time paramedics were first called for assistance, Hale said it took a unit approximately 18 minutes to arrive on scene.

According to a March 23 email to 8News from Heather Jennings, a paralegal in the Dinwiddie County Attorney’s Office, the average response time for Dinwiddie EMS ambulances to the campus of Central State Hospital is approximately 9 minutes and 30 seconds, based on data from Jan. 1, 2023 to March 22, 2023.

“This time reflects the average of the closest available unit at the time of an incident,” Jennings said.

Meanwhile, she wrote that the year-to-date average for EMS ambulances’ response and travel time is approximately 13 minutes and 36 seconds, reflective of an overall average across the system and not of unit locations at the time of dispatch.

On March 6, Hale said the units closest to Central State Hospital were already occupied on two other high-priority calls, with the nearest ambulance located approximately 10 miles from the campus.

“We had a multi-vehicle crash going on, which is where the primary ambulance that normally covers that area was, on that multi-vehicle crash, transporting multiple patients to the hospital. We also had an additional cardiac arrest, unfortunately, going on in that area of the county, which is where the second ambulance that would normally respond to that area was tied up,” the chief told 8News. “You can’t divert resources from those calls. I mean, they’re just as high priority as what was going on there, and unfortunately, in a big county, our resources are spread out.”

Hale said that staffing was not an issue, with the department hiring for just one full-time position.

“We were a little behind the eight ball when we got the call,” he said. “Obviously, that incident had been going on for quite some time.”

Recordings of 9-1-1 calls from March 6 revealed that multiple requests for assistance were made. But questions have been raised about why hospital staff did not call for emergency services sooner. 8News asked Hale if an earlier call might have made a difference in saving the life of the 28-year-old Otieno.

“I don’t know that I can answer that,” he said. “That will be settled later on.”

When Dinwiddie Fire & EMS personnel arrived on scene, Hale said that they began performing lifesaving measures until directed to cease resuscitation efforts by a doctor.

“We never had a rhythm that would have allowed us to defibrillate him. He was administered multiple medications, cardiac medications, to attempt to restart his heart. He was intubated,” the chief said. “We made sure he was oxygenated, along with the CPR, and, unfortunately, none of that was successful.”

Hale said there also could have been a delay in dispatcher communications with Central State Hospital staff, referencing a call in which one worker described Otieno as both “aggressive” and having “no pulse.”

“You’re trying to just factor out what exactly is going on and what exactly do we need to sent to assist you,” Chief Hale said. “We’re stretched pretty thin almost every single day. Four ambulances, I think it covers the call volume, but, certainly, being how spread out the units are, we are routinely an ambulance coming from a further distance than we would like just because of the spacing of of trying to keep ambulances distributed around the county. So, it’s a challenge every single day with just the geography of Dinwiddie County.”