The Fire Department is in talks with City Hall over the best way to provide reliable ambulance service in the wake of the sudden shutdown of the private ambulance company TransCare last month, according to Fire Department Commissioner Daniel Nigro.
TransCare was one of the private companies — besides the FDNY EMS — that sends ambulances to 911 emergency medical calls and serviced seven hospitals in Manhattan and the Bronx until it filed for bankruptcy and ceased operations.
“Twenty-seven ambulances were lost overnight when TransCare went out of business,” Nigro said at a City Council budget hearing on Thursday. He added, “That’s a dangerous situation, that so many ambulances were provided by one company that was obviously on shaky financial ground.”
Since the shutdown, the city has been using a mix of fire department overtime, volunteer and private hospital ambulances to cover the vacated shifts. TransCare’s shuttering translated into a ten percent cut in ambulance tours citywide.
The de Blasio administration has increased the budget for FDNY EMS in the past two years, adding 45 new ambulance tours and funding new EMS pilot programs. But TransCare’s shutdown eliminated 81 tours in just a matter of days.
The city’s reliance on private ambulance companies prompted Councilmember Rory Lancman to ask, “whether or not the department should be relying on these private operators?” He continued, “[or whether] the department should take responsibility for what it does better than any other department or private organization in the world and that is respond to these [emergency medical] calls?”
Nigro said those “exact discussions” are going on between the FDNY and City Hall right now.
Council scrutiny over the use of private ambulance companies as part of the city’s overall emergency medical response comes as both FDNY officials and Council members shared concerns over an uptick in response times to fires and medical emergencies.
Nigro said one cause for the increased response time was a surge in the number of emergencies the FDNY responded to last year. He testified that 2015 was the busiest year in the fire department’s 150 year history. Fire units responded to nearly 600,000 fire and medical emergencies, a 12 percent increase over the previous year. EMS units responded to more than 1.4 million calls, a 6 percent increase over 2014.
He also pointed to an ongoing lag in processing time for 911 calls, an issue the de Blasio administration committed to studying nearly two years ago.
In May 2014, Director of Operations Mindy Tarlow said the city would conduct a pilot to determine if it was more efficient for 911 call takers to ask “what” the emergency was or “where” the emergency was happening. That pilot has never happened.
Nigro said he believes that change will reduce response times and he’s optimistic that a permanent change will take place soon. He said in lieu of a pilot, the mayor’s office conducted “exhaustive research.”
“It took us a long time to get to this point so I don’t see anything standing in our way now,” said Nigro.
Asked if the delay was frustrating, Nigro replied, “I think one can’t be in government and be easily frustrated. I’m not. I’m optimistic.”