FORT WORTH (CBS 11 NEWS) – A combination of planning and improvisation left Fort Worth emergency crews with a template for better responding to icy weather that other cities may follow.

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With a day’s notice of the looming weather, emergency planners thought about how to keep up with rising demands on ambulances, dispatchers and fire crews.

As temperatures plummeted in the ice storms, the number of emergency calls soared for MedStar.

“This was by far the worst ice storm incident,” said MedStar Communications Manager Melissa Allen. “There was even more calls than when we had the tornado.”

Many of the calls piling up were for minor injuries.  So Fort Worth fire and paramedics began responding to free up ambulances.  Then the fire fighters reported back to MedStar about the patient.

Here’s one radio conversation between the fire department and a MedStar dispatcher:

“FWFD:  MedStar from Fire Alarm.
MedStar:  Go ahead fire alarm.
FWFD:  MedStar, our unit just got available.  The caller is still wanting to go to the hospital but they are stable at this time.”

That bought overwhelmed ambulance crews time to get to the priority cases.  Meantime, a trained dispatcher regularly called all of the people with minor injuries waiting for an ambulance.

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“And I talked to them, made sure they were okay and made sure they knew — and that’s the main thing — people just don’t want to be forgotten,” Allen said.

And where the ambulances couldn’t go, firefighters stepped in too.

“So, we would stay at the top of the hill and they would bring us the patients so we wouldn’t get our ambulances stuck,” MedStar Executive Director Douglas Hooten said.  “It’s really not ever happened before!”

MedStar and fire crews adopted a system to mark stalled cars with yellow or red emergency tape after they were checked.  That prevented stopping for the same stalled vehicle twice.

MedStar says the cooperation saved hours in response time and may have saved lives, too.

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