Chicago dispatchers asked to keep ambulance shortage quiet

A city-issued memo instructs them to “avoid terminology like we have no ALS ambulances available”

CHICAGO — A city-issued memo obtained by CBS Chicago asks dispatchers to watch what they say, calling shout-outs for available ambulances “not an acceptable practice” and instructing dispatchers to “avoid terminology like we have no ALS ambulances available” so as not to highlight the fact.

Written by a supervisor at the Office of Emergency Management, the memo also states, “We all realize that certain times we are inundated with runs and lack of resources.”

The document was issued in light of dispatchers repeatedly broadcasting requests such as “Anybody available downtown that can take a run?” in response to a medical emergency, followed minutes later by a similar, “Anybody available downtown?” when all ambulances are busy, CBS reports.

Paramedic Field Chief Pat Fitzmaurice said the aim of the memo is clear.

“They want to cover up the problem,” he said.

Better Government Association CEO and President Andy Shaw said the city should be addressing it.

“Instead of trying to muzzle the outcry they ought to be listening to what it means and taking steps to fix the problem,” he said.

A spokeswoman from Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management said the memo is an “informal internal document” that serves as a reminder to dispatchers to use “approved protocol and professionalism.”

CBS has continued coverage of long response times, including incidents where it took 16 minutes for an ambulance to respond to a woman struck by a postal truck while crossing the street, 22 minutes for an elderly patient complaining of chest pains, and 26 minutes for an ALS response to the home of an elderly woman having trouble breathing.

A spokesman for the Fire Department said the 26-minute response time was “unacceptable” and the incident is under investigation.

In a written statement, the Fire Department said it is conducting a review of its ambulances to ensure deployment meet the needs of Chicago.

“Sooner or later,” Fitzmaurice said, “they are going to have to come to the realization we need more ambulances.”

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