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Omaha fire dept. to end free ambulance standby service

The fire department is changing its policy to focus on more urgent emergency situations

Associated Press

OMAHA, Neb. — The Omaha Fire Department is changing its policy of providing local school districts with ambulances at high school football games in an effort to focus on more urgent emergency situations.

Fire Chief Bernie Kanger said Tuesday that the department will end on Jan. 1 the free standby ambulance service that it’s offered for the past decade at varsity games and other events. Kanger is trying to make the fire department more efficient and needs to prioritize 911 calls over the standby service, he said.

If a district wants to continue having ambulances at games, it will have to enter into a contract with the fire department or with a private ambulance company. Hiring a private company would cost less than a couple hundred of dollars per game, Kanger said, and using the fire department would cost about $180 an hour because its ambulance would be staffed by two off-duty paramedics and would involve overtime.

The policy change will affect the Millard, Omaha, Elkhorn and Westside districts, the Omaha World-Herald reported.

The Omaha Fire Department usually receives five or six requests to staff games every Friday, Kanger said. It already has staffed 39 games this year, he said.

When the department receives a 911 call, ambulances on standby at games must leave the stadium unattended, according to Kanger.

“There’s nobody there providing coverage because we’ve left,” he said. “That’s not a good model. And that’s not the model that other cities use.”

Kanger said it’s becoming increasingly difficult to accommodate the rising demand for standby services while keeping up with calls for emergency services.

Calls for emergency services likely will exceed 49,000 this year, compared to 33,000 calls in 2005, he said.

“We’re providing the same coverage now that we were with the same number of resources that we had in 2005,” he said.

Millard school board member Mike Kennedy said he doesn’t know whether his district will hire an ambulance for games. Kennedy said there should be a high level of medical response at football fields.

“If we do have a serious injury - and usually that involves something spinal or concussion or head injury - we want to make sure the proper personnel are there and that a child can be transported immediately and get the best care available,” he said.

Elkhorn Superintendent Steve Baker said he’s not sure what his district will do.