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Buffalo board pushes Rural/Metro for answers on ambulance delays

Buffalo’s Emergency Medical Services Board wants answers from the city’s ambulance provider about its failure to meet goals for response times when lives are on the line.

The EMS Board voted Monday to issue a letter of inquiry to Rural/Metro Ambulance on why the contractually specified goals are not being met, Buffalo Fire Commissioner Garnell W. Whitfield Jr. said.

“The letter is in regards to response times and allocations of resources,” Whitfield said. “It has been a concern for several months since we signed a new contract and Rural/Metro was purchased by a new owner. We believe we have given them enough time to work things out. We are going to hold them accountable.”

Whitfield said he believes that new ownership, integration of mechanical equipment and computer hardware have all contributed to the unacceptable delays.

The contract requires Rural/Metro to meet minimum established goals for response times at least 90 percent of the time, and the company has fallen below that requirement, “particularly when it comes to advanced life support” arriving at emergencies, the commissioner said.

Complaints about ambulance response times in the city have dogged Rural/Metro for several years.

When the Common Council approved a new five-year contract with Rural/Metro that began last October, it included provisions to get more ambulances on the streets and to improve response times.

American Medical Response, or AMR, now operates Rural/Metro, Whitfield said. AMR had previously unsuccessfully bid on replacing Rural/Metro as Buffalo’s ambulance provider.

In citing the company’s failure to achieve contractual goals, Whitfield discussed an incident from June 7 when a dispatcher tried to send a Rural/Metro ambulance to a Black Rock house fire to transport a man who had suffered burns. The dispatcher was told by Rural/Metro that no ambulance was available to respond to the Kail Street blaze.

“We followed protocol and called in a Twin City ambulance to transport the man from the scene,” Whitfield said of the blaze at 128 Kail. “That ambulance arrived within five to six minutes.”

Rural/Metro will have 30 days to respond to the letter of inquiry, and then the city will have an additional 15 days to issue its response. Whatever the EMS Board decides can then be appealed by Rural/Metro, Whitfield said.

“No fines have been issued against Rural/Metro at this point,” he said. “I have been meeting with Rural/Metro every day for the last week.”