Council to FDNY: Look to Smaller, Shiftier Vehicles for EMS Responses

Chief Leader - March 01, 2020

by BOB HENNELLY

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Increasing emergency medical call volume, climbing response times and worsening traffic congestion have prompted the chair of the City Council’s committee overseeing the Fire Department to introduce legislation requiring it to explore more nimble alternatives to an ambulance.

In 2017, the FDNY deployed its first ASAP UTV four-wheel unit, which is far more compact than the standard ambulance and useful at scenes like Rockefeller Center at Christmastime, when the crush of tourists requires street closings.

Segways or Scooters?

Council Member Joseph Borelli, chair of the Fire and Emergency Management Committee, said in a City Hall interview that his legislation left it to the FDNY to decide whether to explore developing an EMT Segway, a conveyance widely used by police agencies, or a two-wheel motorized scooter.

“Whatever they think works best to meet the goal of improving response times to patients,” he said. “We don’t have to be totally reliant on the giant ambulances that just are not mobile in congested places like Times Square or at a big event at Jones Beach.”

Chief Thomas Currao, who is in charge of Counterterrorism and Emergency Preparedness, testified that the Fire Department was already researching motorized alternatives to ambulances and their ASAP EMT units.

“Our focus has not been on motorized scooters but rather the notion of whether it would be useful to incorporate a Segway-like personal transport device that could be modified for use by EMS personnel,” Mr. Currao said. “We are aware of such devices being used in a law-enforcement context, and we know that at least one U.S. city is using a modified version for EMS personnel at a major airport.”

Already Used by ‘Vollies’

Several years ago, the Daily News reported that Martin Grillo, a former Port Authority police officer who founded the Queens-based Emergency Medical Rescue of New York, had adapted a Segway for EMS response for the local volunteer ambulance corps.

According to an online write-up on the units, they are “fully stocked with basic life support equipment and defibrillators” and were deployed at summer events like an outdoor concert at St. John’s University, a “Duck Curry Festival” at Floyd Bennett Field and a “Back to the Beach” event on Staten Island.

At the Feb. 24 Council hearing, officials with District Council 37’s Local 2507, which represents the city’s EMTs and Paramedics, were receptive to the FDNY exploring new technologies for improving response times but had some practical concerns.

Carl Gandolfo, Local 2507’s recording secretary, said the FDNY’s ASAP UTV had already come in handy. “From what I understand, they were really successful at being able to navigate tight spaces and work well in places like Time Square, where you have pedestrian plazas set amidst crosstown gridlock traffic,” he said.

Insists on Paired Response

Local 2507 President Oren Barzilay told the Council it was important that the deployment of EMT Segways be done in pairs so that EMTs and Paramedics would not be handling medical calls without backup.

“If this goes through, I want to see that it is mandated that two members will be responding,” he said. “Our members are always facing the danger of being assaulted. Having just one EMT respond to a call would put that person in harm’s way.”

Last year there was a record number of medical emergencies recorded—1,531,870—about 2,000 more than in 2018.

EMS response times by ambulances slowed significantly, going from an average of 8:58 in FY 2018 to 9:22 in FY 2019. The latest number was a 23-percent jump from the 7:11 average four years earlier.

Union officials maintain the FDNY’s deteriorating emergency medical response times are linked to the job’s high turnover driven by EMTs leaving to join the fire side of the FDNY.

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