As a former employee of both Twin City and Rural Metro ambulance services, I would like to comment on the recent issue of Twin City's alleged refusal to provide mutual aid to the City of Buffalo.
This is symptomatic of a problem that goes far deeper than an ambulance service not having staffing available to cover another area, and important questions have not been addressed. Did Buffalo's 911 dispatch contact Twin City for an ambulance for an "officer down" call or merely for an ambulance to cover the city during a busy time?
If the ambulance was requested for the officers, it would have taken upwards of 20 minutes to get to the scene from the areas where Twin City actually has units. This would have been of no use to the injured officers, and it is likely that Rural Metro, which covers the city, would have freed up a unit earlier.
If they just needed an ambulance to cover Buffalo, the question then becomes why didn't Rural Metro have enough units to cover the city? Twin City has contracts to provide 911 coverage to certain areas just as Rural Metro does. For Twin City to drop coverage in one of its contracted townships to send an ambulance to cover Buffalo would constitute a breach of contract on its part. One would likewise imagine that Rural Metro would not send its last City of Buffalo unit to cover the Town of Amherst if the situation were reversed.
The question then turns to the city itself. It should be noted that some very influential people involved in making decisions about ambulance coverage in the Buffalo actually lobbied for a single-service provider rather than for two or more ambulance companies.
Furthermore, Buffalo charges a rather substantial fee to companies that wish to operate ambulances in the city; this isn't exactly inviting help. Why hasn't the city established a municipal ambulance service for the citizens of Buffalo that is dedicated to 911 calls, rather than a service like Twin City or Rural Metro, which splits its 911 coverage with private inter-facility contracts?
We also can ask why the 911 system in the city is set up so that the last ambulance available can be sent on a non-priority call for a toothache or toe pain. (I'm not making this up -- these are actual 911 call scenarios.) Calls for first aid are not triaged and logged except during states of emergency. Chances are good that there were seven to eight Rural Metro units tied up on low-priority 911 calls during this busy time.
Let me be clear. Both Rural Metro and Twin City staff highly professional, highly competent people whose main objective is to provide care for the ill and injured. Everyone is saddened and concerned by the shooting of two dedicated police officers. Nevertheless, there are political and administrative problems that end up costing the people of the area in response time and access to emergency medical service.
Perhaps Western New Yorkers should take a closer look at how their emergency systems are set up.
Sean P. Hulsman of Kenmore is a paramedic.