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Rural/Metro defends 48-minute response time to Hertel Avenue accident

Rural/Metro Medical Services defended itself Tuesday before city lawmakers over a recent call that left a woman waiting 48 minutes for an ambulance.

Rural/Metro had 13 or 14 ambulances on duty in Buffalo that morning, but received 18 calls in one hour – making it the busiest one-hour in a 12-week period, ambulance officials told the Common Council. The flurry of calls also occurred at a time of day that typically is not a busy time, Rural/Metro officials said.

The ambulance company therefore used its mutual aid system, calling ambulances from other communities it serves as well as going to other ambulance companies for backup during that hour. It also was using its two-tier system, going to life-threatening emergencies first and putting non life-threatening calls in the second tier, said Jay Smith, Rural/Metro’s regional director.

The call that a 90-year-old woman had driven into a Hertel Avenue restaurant and needed an ambulance came in at about 11:20 a.m. on May 12, officials said. Within two minutes of that call, Rural/Metro learned from the Buffalo Fire Department that the woman had only minor injuries and was stabilized, Smith said. As a result, he said, ambulances were sent to life-threatening calls before to the Hertel Avenue call.

Another ambulance call around the same time had a five-minute, eight-second response time, he said. That call, he said, was for a shooting.

“Life-threatening calls take precedence,” Smith told the Council.

The Buffalo News asked Smith if there were any life-threatening calls during that busy one-hour that Rural/Metro was unable to respond to within nine minutes, which is the national standard for responding to a life-threatening call. Smith said he could not answer that question with the information he had available.

Rural/Metro officials, nonetheless, said they weren’t happy with the 48-minute response time. “We don’t want it to happen again,” Smith said.

Later Tuesday, Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown also expressed concern about the delay.

“It’s not acceptable,” he said.

And the mayor said he believes a new contract the city is expected to enter into with Rural/Metro will ensure better service for city residents.

The new contract, Brown said, increases the number of ambulances and ambulance staff in the city at all times, establishes contract-mandated response times and sets penalties for non-compliance.

“There will be a 20 percent increase in staffing in the city,” Brown said.

Rural/Metro already has signed off on the new contract, which is expected to be presented to the Council within the next week for its approval.

Rural/Metro has had an exclusive contract to provide ambulance service to the city since 2005 and was recently selected to continue as the city’s sole ambulance provider when the contract was rebid.

One of the companies that competed with Rural/Metro for the new contract, American Medical Response, Tuesday called on the Common Council to conduct a public hearing to review proposals the city received for 911 emergency service.

“An open and transparent process will allow city leaders and Buffalo residents to explore their 911 options, carefully vet the proposals and make an informed decision about ambulance services,” said Ron Cunningham, a spokesman for American Medical Response. “Taking the time to analyze the proposals, learn about the companies and ask probing questions will cost the city nothing, and in the end, could save lives and lead to a more effective EMS system for the citizens of Buffalo.”

But Brown said American Medical Response lost out because its bid wasn’t as good as Rural/Metro’s.

“There was a bid process. They didn’t win,” the mayor said. “They offered less than the group that won the bid process. If this was so important, they should have put a better bid on the table that offered more for the residents of this community.”

email: sschulman@buffnews.com