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GPS may be everywhere, but EMS crews don't have them

Instead of GPS, these ambulances are equipped only with books of maps. (Photo by Andrew Hinderaker)

Cabbies have them and you probably do, too. But believe it or not, city ambulance drivers don’t have GPS systems to help them respond to emergencies.

EMT crews are sometimes forced to use paper maps to reach victims, resulting in delays when responding to life-and-death emergencies, workers and union leaders say.

“It’s just a day-to-day occurrence of guys saying, ‘I have to look it up on the map.’ That adds a minute or two,” said Patrick Bahnken, president of the union that represents city EMTs.

Ambulances used by at least five local hospitals have GPS, as they act as a “helpful supplement” to the crews, a New York Hospital spokeswoman said. Since Boston installed GPS in its ambulances five years ago, it’s made “a huge difference,” especially for new workers, an EMS spokeswoman said.

FDNY spokesman Steve Ritea confirmed that the ambulances don’t have the cheap gizmos, but said that response times are improving regardless. Average EMS response times to emergencies were 6 minutes and 41 seconds last year, down from 7 minutes and 52 seconds a decade earlier. Each unit has a “detailed citywide map,” and crews known their terrain, Ritea said.

Technically, the FDNY’s 1,300 ambulances do have GPS, but the $50 million system installed in 2006 only allows dispatchers to track their routes through signals. The devices on ambulances  hav

Ambulance crews have a set terrain, but responders are sometimes called way from it for big emergencies. New streets have also popped up in the outer boroughs, making the maps obsolete, workers say.

“It’s not once in a while thing,” one EMT said.

Earlier this year, for example, it took an extra 20 minutes to get to a man who was having a heart attack because he lived on a new street near Staten Island Mall that wasn’t on the truck’s Hagstrom map, a worker said. The man survived.

Some crews resort to bringing their own GPS devices, but that’s against the rules and they could be punished if caught, Bahnken said.


A bill recently introduced by Councilwoman Gale Brewer could help ambulance drivers by requiring building owners to post addresses on the front of their property. Not having the numbers sometimes confusues drivers searching for victims, said Brewer, who is pushing City Council leadership to get behind the bill.

"If there's a number, it makes it easier for the emergency responder. Every second counts," said Sgt. Carlos Nieves, a police spokesman.

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