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Ambulance response times in city improve, reach contract goal

Complaints about ambulance response times have frustrated Buffalo residents and officials for years.

But over that past six months, ambulance provider American Medical Response has improved response times for emergency calls by more than two minutes, officials announced Tuesday. The company is now meeting contract terms requiring an ambulance to arrive in less than nine minutes – at least 90 percent of the time – on the most serious life-threatening emergency calls.

"In some cases, it’s above that," said Fire Commissioner Garnell Whitfield, adding that before the most recent six months, the figure had dipped well below that.

"In some cases it was 70 percent. It even dipped to 60 percent," Whitfield said.

On less urgent calls, ambulances are supposed to arrive within 15 minutes.

Officials from the city and AMR have attributed the improvement to several factors, including AMR’s hiring of 100 additional staffers, the addition of 20 more vehicles to its ambulance fleet and increasing the number of hours the ambulances are out on the road.

"The ambulance response times are the best they have ever been and we are making sure they stay the best they’ve ever been," said Mayor Byron W. Brown.

Thomas Maxian, AMR regional director, said he is pleased with the improvements, but "we will continue to look for other ways to improve."

That includes AMR and the city partnering to implement a two-way data communications link between the company and the city's ambulance dispatch communications centers. The link will streamline operations and increase efficiency to improve service to the community, officials said.

"We won’t have to duplicate information or speak over the radio," Maxian said. "We can start an ambulance in motion more quickly."

In October 2015, the Common Council approved a new five-year contract with Rural/Metro ambulance service, choosing it over AMR. But later that same year, AMR bought Rural/Metro and now operates the ambulance service.

But complaints about ambulance response times in the city have been a concern for years. In 2015, for instance, city lawmakers said:

  • It took more than nine minutes for an ambulance to arrive after two police cars collided, flipping one onto its roof.
  • It took over an hour for an ambulance to arrive when an infant with a 105-degree temperature needed a ride to the hospital.
  • A Riverside High School football player waited an hour for an ambulance after breaking his leg.

But those days, officials hope, are over.

"This is a very proud day for the City of Buffalo," the mayor said. "We have worked successfully with AMR to achieve a significant improvement in emergency medical response times."

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