EMS shortage forces S.F. Fire to hire private ambulances

With runs taking between 20 to 90 minutes, S.F. Fire made a 911 call to a private EMS company to help with responses

SAN FRANCISCO — The San Fire Department recently called a private ambulance company to help with medical emergencies during a busy Saturday night.

On Aug. 30, 12 fire engines had been dispatched to emergencies throughout the city, and with 15 ambulances already out, runs were taking between 21 and 90 minutes, the SFGate.com reports. 

Records presented to the Fire Commission show 374 incidents in August that took more than 20 minutes for fire department ambulances to arrive.

“Delays like this used to happen only on big event days like New Year's Eve, Halloween or World Series victories," said firefighters union President Tom O'Connor. "But these abysmal responses are now happening on a Tuesday afternoon in August.

The city’s maximum response-time goal is 10 minutes.

Fire Department spokeswoman Mindy Talmadge said that Aug. 30 wasn’t the first time the department has called a private company for assistance.

"It happens, but it doesn't happen very often," she said.

It’s important to note that while hospital transport was delayed, patients were being treated by responders on the scene, she said. She also acknowledged that it’s a growing problem. 

O'Connor agrees.

"This is a public health hazard that is only growing worse and worse," O'Connor said.

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