We’re past the breaking point: RFD troubled by AMR response times

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — For the past several weeks, News10NBC has been investigating the shortage of ambulances in the city of Rochester. On Monday evening, there was a startling example of just how bad the problem is getting.

A Rochester firefighter, injured with battling a fire, had to wait more than seven minutes for an ambulance to get to the scene to take him to the hospital.

The fire happened along Greig Street in the Corn Hill section of the city of Rochester. Two people who lived in the home escaped but were injured. They were taken to the hospital by the first AMR ambulance that responded.

"The deputy chief called for another ambulance for the firefighter and then that’s when we had the delay,” Eddie Santiago, the president of RFD Local 1071 said.

The firefighter had been rehabbing outside with others who had entered the burning building when his condition worsened.

"If someone goes down, we need someone there to take care of the firefighter, that’s all we’re asking for,” Santiago said.

While there was an ambulance hosting the rehab area for first responders, AMR, the company with the City Ambulance contract, was required to send another rig the moment the first one left.

“For my member to wait seven minutes for an ambulance to get there when they’re supposed to already be there, that’s completely unacceptable,” Santiago said. "But when a civilian or a city resident is waiting 20, 30, 40 minutes for an ambulance, that’s the breaking point."

AMR has told News10NBC it will never make someone wait 20 or 30 minutes if it’s a life or death situation, but Santiago says the firefighters he represents have seen otherwise.

"Absolutely, absolutely there have been calls where we’ve had companies on scene for CPR runs, shootings or stabbings [for that amount of time] those are less frequent but nonetheless it happens," he said.

News10NBC has been investigating AMR response times and its increased reliance on mutual aid for the past several weeks. The company admits it is experiencing a severe staffing shortage, the fire union says Monday evening was particularly bad.

"They had 34 calls in their queue and only 10 ambulances on duty,” Santiago says.

Paramedics and EMTs tell News10NBC pay is a problem. Locally, the average EMT starts at around $15 an hour.

“We can’t have another agency tie up a company just because of corporate greed because I think that’s what it boils down to. At the end of the day you have to fully staff an organization,” Santiago said.

The situation, in his opinion, is becoming so dire, the Local 1071 has asked its national union to conduct a study on the feasibility of a fire-based EMS system. The City of Rochester is also planning to commission a study to see if and how that could work. News10NBC is preparing a story on that for Wednesday at 6 p.m.