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To compare differences in response times, scene times, and transport times by advanced life-support-trained paramedics to trauma incidents in urban and rural locations. This report was a prospective cohort study of professional emergency medical services conducted in a five-county area in the state of Washington. Ninety-eight percent of trauma transports are provided by professional paramedics trained in advanced life support. Subjects were included in this study if they qualified as a major trauma victim and were transported or found dead at the scene by one of the region's advanced life support transport agencies between August 1, 1991, and January 31, 1992. The severity of injury was rated using the Prehospital Index. Incident locations were defined as "rural" if they occurred in a US Census division (a geographic area) in which more than 50% of the residents resided in a rural location. During the 6-month data collection period, advanced life support agencies responded to a total of 459 major trauma victims in the region. A geographic location was determined for 452 of these subjects. Of these, 42% of subjects were injured in urban areas and the remainder in rural areas. The severity of injuries, as determined both by the triage classification (p = 0.17) and the distribution of Prehospital Index scores (p = 0.92), was similar for urban and rural major trauma patients. Twentysix (5.7%) subjects died at the scene. About one quarter of both groups had a severe injury, as indicated by Prehospital Index score of more than 3. The mean response time for urban locations was 7.0 minutes (median = 6 minutes) compared with 13.6 minutes (median = 12 minutes) for rural locations (p < 0.0001). The mean scene time in rural areas was slightly longer than in urban areas (21.7 vs. 18.7 minutes, p = 0.015). Mean transport times from the scene to the hospital were also significantly longer for rural incidents (17.2 minutes vs. 8.2 minutes, p < 0.0001). Rural victims were over seven times more likely to die before arrival (relative risk = 7.4, 95% confidence interval 2.4-22.8) if the emergency medical services' response time was more than 30 minutes. Response and transport times among professional, advanced life-support-trained paramedics responding to major trauma incidents are longer in rural areas, compared with urban areas.