NY officials investigate delayed ambulance response to fire

It took 18 minutes for any ambulances to arrive to the scene; it took a paramedic 13 minutes

By EMS1 Staff

BUFFALO, N.Y. — A private ambulance service came under fire after failing to respond quickly to a fire Tuesday.

Requesting an ambulance to a working fire is protocol, even if no injuries are reported. Firefighters later reported that an individual suffered burns, but no ambulance was on scene. 

Buffalo’s provider, Rural Metro, was called to send an ambulance, but it took 18 minutes for any ambulance to arrive, reported WIVB4.

According to dispatch records, Rural Metro did not have an available ambulance to send; leading firefighters to request a second ambulance from Twin City Ambulance. 

“We need the status of that ambulance with a man down at the corner; he’s having some trouble right now,” fire crews said on dispatch recordings.  

Nearly 10 minutes after the request for a Rural Metro ambulance, dispatchers replied, stating, “They just updated us, he should have an ambulance there in a couple of minutes.”

While waiting for both ambulances, firefighters ended up commandeering a passing Twin City Ambulance. 

“The other ambulance was going to be too far out,” crews said.

Fire Commissioner Garnell Whitfield said the ambulance the firefighters commandeered was actually the one crews had requested, and that crews may not have realized it was the one they were waiting for. 

Rural Metro sent a paramedic to the scene, who arrived 13 minutes after the original call. The city’s contract with Rural Metro requires life threatening calls to be answered in less than nine minutes. 

“Somebody could’ve died; somebody could’ve had life-long injures,” council member Joseph Golombek said. “We still don’t what the final prognosis for the individual that was taken to the hospital but whenever you’re dealing with emergency personnel, whenever you’re dealing with ambulances, time is of the essence and one minute, 30 seconds, 10 seconds could be the difference.”

Officials are reviewing why Rural Metro did not have an ambulance available, as well as the call volume and number of ambulances in service on that day. 

Rural Metro released a statement that said, “During the Kail Street fire, the emergency response mutual aid system was tested in Buffalo, and it worked. Yesterday, during a spike in emergency calls, we needed backup help from our partner Twin City Ambulance, and today in Tonawanda we were able to provide mutual aid in their service area. 
“In the end, our goal is to make sure patients are treated and transported, and we are pleased that the mutual aid system worked the way it was designed. We will be reviewing this incident with the Fire Commissioner.”

This year, Twin City Ambulance responded to 30 calls in Buffalo as part of a mutual-aid system with Rural Metro; last year it responded to more than 70 of those calls. 

“If a call comes in from another community, we first make sure we have enough resources to cover the areas we’re contracted to serve and if we have extra resources, we’ll send those units out,” Twin City Ambulance President Terance Clark said. 

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