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FDNY ambulance response times urged to be shorter

A member of the FDNY gives a thumbs

A member of the FDNY gives a thumbs up to an ambulance as drives in Manhattan on Friday, Oct. 30, 2015. Credit: Craig Ruttle

A City Council member from Queens and the FDNY’s chief of department agreed Tuesday that ambulance response times citywide must be improved for people facing emergencies.

But they used data crunched in different ways to show the waits have gotten either longer or shorter.

Elizabeth Crowley, a Democrat and chair of the council fire and criminal justice services committee, calculated the difference using calendar years. She said the end-to-end average response time to life-threatening medical emergencies by ambulance units had jumped to 9 minutes, 22 seconds in 2015 from 9 minutes, 13 seconds the previous year.

Her home borough had the longest 2015 time at 9 minutes, 52 seconds — 49 seconds longer than Manhattan, she said.

“It’s too long to have to wait when you’re experiencing a life-threatening situation,” she said.

FDNY Chief James Leonard at a council hearing, meanwhile, spoke of data compiled by fiscal year. The average response time had improved to 9 minutes, 16 seconds in fiscal year 2015 — which ended June 30 — compared to 9 minutes, 31 seconds the previous fiscal year, he said.

“We agree with you that the numbers need to come down,” he told Crowley, but added that the agency was performing well considering a recent increased volume of emergency calls.

“We’re a life-saving organization,” he said. “If you’re having a heart attack, we want to get to you as fast as we can.”

Crowley is sponsoring a bill that would require a more detailed breakdown of response times of the FDNY.

The hearing at City Hall also discussed the lack of GPS navigation devices in emergency-response vehicles.

Leonard acknowledged that “not many” ambulances are so equipped. “But we rely on our experience and the people in the neighborhoods,” he said.

Fire officials said the city will begin rolling out new GPS systems in their vehicles next year.

Vincent Variale, president of the Uniformed EMS Officers’ Union, said that his members do know their way around but sometimes must rely on paper maps, which takes up valuable minutes.

“When we get a call and we don’t know where that is, we have to look at the map and find it,” Variale said.

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