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Op-ed: End critical delays in EMS response time

The need for our EMS to be unparalleled here in New York City is increasingly great. As a city, we must make critical policy changes that will decrease response time and save lives. This February, the average response time to life-threatening medical emergencies in Queens was 10 minutes and 15 seconds, which is not acceptable.

The City Council passed a law that would track end-to-end response times for both fire and medical emergencies, and further require the FDNY to report that response time. New Yorkers need to know the truth. This involves recording not only the time it took for an emergency unit to be dispatched, but also the time it took to process the call.

The law was named for Ariel Russo who was tragically killed when she was struck by a reckless driver trying to evade the police. After the crash, there was a clear error in dispatching an EMS unit and emergency personnel lost at least four critical minutes. The “Ariel Russo Emergency 9-1-1 Response Time Reporting Act” now provides a more transparent record of response times.

Last year, two young siblings, Ayina and Jai’Launi Tinglin, were killed in a Far Rockaway fire. EMS personnel did not reach the scene until 20 minutes after the call was received. The city found that personnel errors preceding the dispatch caused delays in reaching the children, but we see this as only half of the truth. Reports from dangerous, deadly fires have shown that the FDNY only dispatches ambulances after an FDNY unit on the scene confirms it is a structural fire. In this case, had the need for EMS to wait not existed, they could have been dispatched more than six minutes earlier. A lack of resources is likely the main reason the FDNY delays the EMS dispatch.

We believe the FDNY must dispatch EMS units once the report of a structural fire comes in through 9-1-1 and make it part of the many units dispatched within a first-alarm fire.
The FDNY again wasted critical time by waiting to dispatch EMS during a structural fire in Midwood. The fire killed seven children in the Sassoon family: David, Yehoshua, Moshe, Yaakov, Eliane, Rivka and Sarah. It took nearly 14 minutes for EMS to get to the scene.

We write this op-ed to call on the fire department to make three critical policy changes that would reduce response times and improve the level of pre-hospital care.

First, the fire department must change its dispatch policy and immediately send an ambulance upon receipt of a 9-1-1 call reporting a structural fire as part of a “first-alarm.”
Second, we need to greatly expand the number of department ambulance tours. This is the surest way to reduce response times, and the additional tours managed correctly will not only save lives but could also generate revenue for the city.

Lastly, in order to increase department professionalism, promotional civil service exams must be instituted for upper-ranking officers, just like those for the fire department’s firefighters and other public safety agencies. This would also bring the city into compliance with federal and state guidelines to ensure emergency scenes are properly and efficiently handled.

Our EMS personnel work every day to keep us alive, and for that they deserve not only our unconditional gratitude but effective procedures to abide by. Let’s make our EMS stronger for today and always.

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