How Indianapolis Pike Township Fire Department Prepares for Emergencies with Multilingual Phone Interpreting Services

How Indianapolis Pike Township Fire Department Prepares for Emergencies with Multilingual Phone Interpreting Services

Indianapolis Pike Township Fire Department has provided emergency services for over 70 years. The township is located in the northwest section of Indianapolis and serves a diverse population. For the majority of Limited English Proficient (LEP) residents, Spanish is their primary language.

The 84,000-resident township also has pockets of people who speak many languages including Arabic, Russian, Burmese, and Creole, as well as Deaf and hard of hearing individuals. The department stands ready to step into any moment of crisis and serve its community, including its multilingual residents.

What were the language challenges?

As emergency responders, the language barriers the department faces can be significant and create a real risk because medical treatment may be delayed or incorrect if the information is not clearly communicated between the patient and responders. As well, municipal emergency responders are required to comply with language access laws including, but not limited to, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act requiring equal access to all services irrespective of language.

Additionally, knowing when a language barrier may exist or what language is needed can be challenging in a 911 setting. Any solution to this problem needs to be flexible, adaptable, and provide as much language access as possible.

Previous attempts to communicate prior to phone interpreting

Written guides

Prior to collaborating with LUNA, Pike Fire’s crews carried Spanish to English “guides” to assist with common questions or issues. This solution was very limiting because it only contained English to Spanish phrases and relied on a community member with good vision, hearing, and reading comprehension for meaningful communication.

Bilingual bystanders

Inevitably, Pike’s personnel would try to find someone on the scene who was bilingual and could serve as a temporary interpreter. Sometimes it worked well if the bystander or family member was an adult and spoke both languages fluently. But more often than not, the person acting as the interpreter spoke English with some difficulty or was a child, which made assessment and communication very difficult. An untrained bilingual bystander will never be as reliable as a professional interpreter, which creates concerns regarding the accuracy of medical information that is being relayed as well as privacy concerns for the patient. Further, a child should not be used under any circumstances if it can be prevented. As well, using a family member or untrained interpreter goes soundly against best practices and is strictly limited to very narrow situations by law.

Training personnel as interpreters

As a department, the idea of training personnel to learn Spanish was considered. Having personnel trained as interpreters is a great way to support language access, and the Pike Township Fire Department has expressed its continued support of language learning on an individual level. Unfortunately, this solution did not meet all the needs the department was experiencing. Having personnel trained for only one language is limiting when many other languages need coverage. Additionally, the number of trained interpreters required to ensure every language was covered at all times became impossible to support in-house. It quickly became unrealistic logistically and not cost-effective.

Translation apps

With the advent of smartphone apps, crews were starting to use apps as a secondary method of on-scene interpretation, with bystander interpreting still serving as the primary method. These apps, however, are not without their drawbacks. First, they were not designed for emergency use and have difficulty translating medical terms. Second, the apps are geared more toward translating words than they are at creating accurate sentence structure and dialogue, which can cause additional confusion. Lastly, most apps do not have a large enough library of languages or dialects to truly solve many language barriers.

Phone interpreting solution

After investigating many options, Pike Township Fire Department landed on LUNA’s on-demand phone interpreting services. The department felt reassured by the network of language professionals offered through this service and knew it could be flexible enough to cover its multilingual conversations. The ability to provide 24/7 language coverage based on a fee-for-service model allowed the department to provide this resource while remaining fiscally responsible and operationally flexible.

On March 17th, 2021, Pike Township Fire Department went live with the implementation of on-demand phone interpreting for their personnel. That month, crews were immediately able to access phone interpreters for multiple languages, including Spanish, Swahili, varied Burmese dialects, and many others. This resource is now available to all personnel staffing 14 apparatus and responding to incidents 24/7. In addition to 911 personnel, all administrative, public education, and fire prevention personnel who are regularly out in the community have access to these on-demand phone interpreting services.

Results after implementing on-demand phone interpreting

The positive impacts have been critically important for Pike Township Fire Department and the surrounding community.

Organizational impact

Emergency personnel are now more confident than ever as they have the resources to deal with any situation that may arise out in the community, which is continuing to diversify. Knowing they have trained interpreters available to assist with communication allows crews to provide the same high level of care to all community members.

The 200 plus languages available at Pike Fire’s fingertips ensure EMS providers are ready for more than just the common languages in the area. When it comes to more unique languages, any other resource or solution would have been inadequate. And of course, having a trained interpreter who can explain accurately what is being communicated cannot be overstated. How someone speaks their language, their dialect, sentence composition, or slang terminology are all factors that a document or phone app is just not suited to overcome.

Community impact

From a community standpoint, residents and community members can feel reassured that they will receive culturally-competent care. Having access to phone interpreters ensures Pike Fire is providing safety and a high-quality response, no matter the circumstance or language.

Concluding thoughts

Through on-demand phone interpreting services, Pike Fire has safely provided prompt and effective medical services in multilingual emergency settings. The scalability of phone interpreting offered the perfect solution for their changing roster of locations, patients, and situations.

Whether your organization deals with a few multilingual conversations a month, or has hundreds of interactions with Limited English Proficient (LEP) individuals, phone interpreting is a valuable tool to have on hand before the need arises. It’s a cost-efficient solution that’s user-friendly and the quickest way to access an interpreter.

 Want to try out our phone interpreting services and see how it works for your organization? Call 317.341.4137 or email us at to set up your account for free.