Council Wants to Log Emergency Responses Starting With 911 Calls

Chief Leader - December 17, 2013


The City Council last week voted to require the Mayor’s Office to report response times from the moment a 911 call is placed, a practice that has already been implemented but was not previously mandated by law. The city must also report those times to the Council on a monthly and annual basis.

The law is named after 4-year-old Ariel Russo, who was killed by a speeding SUV that jumped a curb in June. At that time, ambulance response times were recorded beginning when a call was transferred to the appropriate FDNY or Emergency Medical Service operator.

Dispatch Was Delayed

It was later revealed that there was a four-minute delay in dispatching the ambulance to that accident. The city blamed the incident on a single operator missing the notice, though a large screen on the wall and the individual terminals of about 40 other operators should have also registered the call.

Shortly before the incident, a new computer dispatching system had been launched, and the system had crashed a few times. Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway testified before the Council that that system had nothing to do with the delay, since that call had been made by a police officer via radio, bypassing the usual system in which EMS and police dispatchers communicate electronically.

Councilman Lew Fidler first introduced a similar bill years ago and has long pushed for the city to track additional aspects of emergency response times. He has also introduced legislation that would require the clock to keep running until Firefighters either arrive at a caller’s door (even if she lives in a high-rise building) or until water reaches a fire.

In a statement last week, Mr. Fidler said, “Anyone who has ever called 911 knows nothing takes longer than the seconds and minutes until help arrives. When we measure the city’s emergency response time, we need to take all of those seconds into account, because they matter to the person waiting and they matter to us when we are making decisions on resources based on those numbers. It is vitally important that our numbers reflect reality.”

‘Every Second Counts’

Council Member Elizabeth Crowley, who chairs the Fire and Criminal Justice Services Committee, said in a statement, “When 911 is called, every second counts. Under the Bloomberg administration, response times were miscalculated. With this bill, from the second [a] call is placed to the moment help arrives, New Yorkers will now know exactly how long it takes.”

A city spokesperson said the administration supports the law, and EMS officers’ union president Vincent Variale told The Chief-Leader that “Councilwoman Crowley’s been very helpful with the whole situation in terms of improving statistics and fixing the problems they have with the Fire Department.”

He said he was disappointed, however, that the law doesn’t require the number of supervisors who respond to emergency calls to be tracked, “especially since statistics have shown that when an EMS Captain or Lieutenant is on the scene, the survival rate increases by 27 percent.”

‘Fix It in Future’

“Perhaps they can fix that in the future” with an addendum to the law, he added.

Ms. Crowley has challenged Bloomberg administration officials several times in the past about the low ratio of supervisors to EMS employees in the field.

The fire unions have long disputed the city’s official response times and have challenged before the Office of Collective Bargaining the city’s 2009 switch to using NYPD operators for fire calls, arguing that the move has slowed down calls overall.