Rural Metro responds to long wait times, suggests change

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Rural Metro says change is coming, after a burn victim had to wait nearly 20 minutes for an ambulance to take him to the hospital.

But will that incident, a fire Tuesday afternoon on Kail Street, and a new administration, be enough to sway the private ambulance company to action?

During peak times, when emergency call volume is at its greatest, there are between 10 and 20 Rural Metro ambulances on the streets of the city of Buffalo. That’s a number defined by the contract between the city and Rural Metro, and it changes depending on the month and season. But after it took nearly 20 minutes on Tuesday for a burn victim to be loaded into the back of an ambulance, answers were demanded. And change could coming.

“We had a burn victim on the sidewalk, waiting, for 17 minutes,” said Tom Barrett, president of the Buffalo Professional Firefighters union.

Barrett says he wants answers. But more than words, he wants change.

“You can’t play Russian roulette with this stuff. It’s crazy,” he said.

That’s what it seemed like Tuesday afternoon on Kail Street, he said. A man burned, being treated on the scene, first responders waiting on an ambulance.

An ambulance wasn’t nearby because it was considered a cold call, meaning lower priority. Only when it was determined this man was injured did the priority rise.

But by then, it could be too late, Barrett said.

“From our standpoint, we want an ambulance, a hot call, every time a fire comes out,” he said.

There was so much confusion, firefighters thought they had to flag down another ambulance from a separate company.

As it turns out, ADI, the company’s dispatching services, called Twin Cities for mutual aid, when it was determined Rural Metro squads were too far away.
Those decisions take time.

“That’s crazy. Absolutely crazy,” Barrett said. “If they knew at 3:53 that a fire went out, an ambulance should have been dispatched as a hot call. They shouldn’t have to wait for a report that we have somebody down.”

Change could be on the horizon, says Mike Addario, Rural Metro’s vice president of operations for New York.

“We want to make sure we have the resources on the scene of any standby like that, as soon as possible,” he said. “I don’t think that 17 minutes is appropriate. I would like to see our resources get there much sooner than that.

“It’s something I think we need to look at to change,” he said.

The other big issue with this is knowing where ambulances in the city are located at all times. That’s information that Rural Metro has refused to share with first responders, but that may change, too, when the company’s fleet is updated with GPS tracking devices, Addario said. That, and how often ambulances are dispatched with fire crews, will be topics of a discussion scheduled for Monday among Rural Metro’s new administration, city officials and members of its ambulance board.

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