CHICAGO (CBS) — The Fourth of July holiday weekend is here. But, if you need an ambulance will it be there on time?
For years CBS 2 investigator Pam Zekman has been uncovering unacceptable ambulance delays in Chicago prompting a review by the Chicago Fire Department. That report is well overdue.
“It’s been 65 days since your department said that you were going to try to get a report out,” Zekman said to Fire Commissioner Richard Ford. “Why haven’t you gotten a report out? Where are the numbers that you supposedly have.”
“The data set is unclear, Ms. Zekman. As soon as those numbers are available, I will make them available to you,” the commissioner responded.
After CBS 2 repeatedly reported on extensive ambulance delays — sometimes as long as 24 minutes — Chicago added five new ambulances, bringing their fleet up to 80 rigs.
This past April, the CBS 2 Investigators analyzed data from the Office of Emergency Management which showed that even after the new ambulances were put on the street, average response times only improved by 4 seconds.
But, the fire department said the data was inaccurate. They have said the same thing about critical studies done by the city inspector general, the International Association of Fire Fighters and CBS 2.
“You continue to knock everybody down as inaccurate, and you can’t come up with your own numbers, why?” Zekman asked.
“Again, Ms. Zekman, we have a number of additional facilities that started, trauma centers, etc., that data isn’t clear just yet. As soon as we can make sure the data is clear we will get those numbers to you,” Ford said.
The fire commissioner was at a fireworks safety event Wednesday. Ironically, one of our past examples of a delayed ambulance response involved a fireworks accident. The state goal for ambulance response times is 6 to 7 minutes. It took 15 minutes for an ambulance to respond when Andres Perea blew off part of his hand while setting off fireworks.
“That’s not right,” said Perea. “Somebody could die out here, could bleed out.”
Studies indicate the department may need 20 additional ambulances, paramedics say. For now Chicago is behind other major cities in the ratio of ambulances per 1,000 people — another statistic the fire department has rejected.
“If you’re constantly having to make decisions about the number of paramedics and you don’t have the right numbers, how can you make decisions?” Zekman asked.
Commissioner Ford did not answer Zekman’s question as he walked inside the fire academy and the door shut behind him.
Ultimately, this is all about safety and if an ambulance can get to you in time when you need it most. The fire department has said in the past that when there is not ambulance immediately available, it gets a paramedic to the scene on a firetruck. But they can’t take the patient to a hospital which can be crucial.