CIVIC CENTER — The flood of hospitals closing their doors around the city has hampered the Fire Department's effort to reduce ambulance response times — leaving the current average response at more than nine minutes, outgoing Fire Commissioner Sal Cassano told the City Council Monday.
Cassano, who is expected to be replaced soon by Mayor Bill de Blasio's appointee, FDNY Chief of Department Chief Daniel Nigro, told those assembled at Council chambers that while the city is doing everything possible to bring down the time it takes emergency workers to get to scenes, the closures aren't making their jobs easy.
“As hospitals close and as hospitals do away with their ambulance services, we’re replacing those [ambulance] tours that are given up, and we’re doing it as quickly as possible,” Cassano told the Council's budget committee. “We are continuing to do our best to reduce the response time for life-threatening emergencies.”
Elizabeth Crowley, chairwoman of the Council's fire and criminal justice committee, said the Council believed the department should be aiming to get response times to under six minutes.
Crowley pointed to a number of recent fatal fires in which the FDNY's response times have come under question, including one that led to the deaths of two children in the Rockaways. In that incident, FDNY dispatcher delays led to ambulances arriving more than 20 minutes after firefighters arrived on scene.
While Cassano said his department has already made changes to its emergency response protocol, such as shifting ambulances from one borough to another depending on needs, he defended the current system in which ambulances aren't automatically sent to fires unless requested by firefighters.
“If you want to dispatch an ambulance on a report of a structural fire, it makes no sense whatsoever,” Cassano said, pointing to department statistics that showed nearly 20,000 false alarms in 2013, most of which were for structural fires, that would have resulted in unneeded ambulance dispatches.
The Council has also been trying to convince the administration to hire an additional 76 emergency medical supervisors to help bring down the ratio of supervisors to emergency medical responders in the field. The Council wants to achieve a ratio of one supervisor for every seven emergency medical responders in the field, as recommended by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The hires weren’t included in de Blasio's executive budget released last month.
Cassano said the department has asked the administration for an additional 24 supervisors, but noted he had “a difference of opinion” with the Council’s description of the current ratio in the field.
“Commissioner, it’s not my opinion," Crowley said, "it’s the federal government’s."