Audit: Pittsburgh needs faster response times

The average response was nine minutes, 53 seconds; the city's ALS response should be eight minutes, officials say


By Robert Zullo
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

PITTSBURGH, Pa. — Pittsburgh’s Bureau of Emergency Medical Services needs to make lowering its response times “a major bureau objective,” according to a performance audit released Wednesday by the office of City Controller Michael Lamb.

The audit found that average response times for all calls in 2013 was 9 minutes 53 seconds, up from 9 minutes 41 seconds in 2012 but down from the 10-minute 3-second response time the controller's office found in 2007.

The report noted that there are no federal or state response time standards for ambulances, though the National Fire Protection Association states that an “advanced life support” crew should respond within eight minutes for priority calls — those involving potentially life-threatening or serious health concerns.

Mr. Lamb said he established a 9-minute response time standard for priority EMS calls for the bureau, based on discussions with other EMS systems nationwide.

The bureau, which operates 13 ambulances and three backup ambulances with 108 paramedics and 53 crew chiefs, has kept its response time fairly steady even as its call volume has increased from 115,798 in 2006 and 2007 to 121,612 in 2012 and 2013. In 2012, for priority calls it responded in under 9 minutes for nearly 61 percent of calls. In 2013, it responded under 9 minutes in less than 59 percent of calls.

“They're doing fairly well,” Mr. Lamb said. “There's always room for improvement.”

Mr. Lamb’s audit, which examined calls from Jan. 1, 2012, to Dec. 31, 2013, comes as the city’s EMS bureau is looking into the response time for an Oct. 13 shooting in Glen Hazel that left 22-year-old Marcus Critten dead. It took 12 minutes for an ambulance, dispatched from Homewood, to arrive.

“At the time of that dispatch, there was one ambulance available,” said Mark Bocian, still the city’s acting EMS chief after nearly two years on the job.

Chief Bocian said he agreed with most of the audit’s findings, adding that whittling away at the bureau’s response time will remain a priority.

He said the bureau has added newer vehicles and is examining ways to cut “turnaround” time paramedics spend at hospitals. It also is exploring adding wireless Internet to vehicles to allow reports and data to be entered on the road. Also a priority is educating the public about when, and when not, to call 911.

“I wish it was four minutes. I wish I had 40 ambulances,” Chief Bocian said. “We'll continue to look at every angle we can to improve on it.”

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©2014 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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