In 2010, the City of Madison added its eighth ambulance. Now, nearly ten years later, Madison Fire Chief Steven Davis is calling upon the City to add its ninth.
According to Davis, emergency calls have grown about 5 to 7 percent each year, and resources have not kept up.
Davis also says that when all of the ambulances covering a certain territory are already responding to calls in that area, the City’s other ambulances — or even those from nearby municipalities — begin to respond to emergency calls.
In the process, those ambulances then vacate their own area, causing a kind of domino effect of dependence. When that happens during a period of heavy snowfall or traffic, like this morning, those response times can be significantly longer.
“All of our east-side ambulances were tied up, so we had to send an ambulance from the far-west side to the far-east side, and with the snow conditions [and traffic], we’re talking a twenty-minute arrival time for that ambulance to get on the call,” Davis says.
When someone experiencing a heart attack or stroke that requires a rapid-response, twenty minutes can be an eternity.
That’s why Alder Michael Tierney says adding the ambulance to his district goes beyond budgeting “needs” and “wants.”
“It’s just something that the City is required to do in order to protect the public’s safety,” Tierney says. “If you have an ambulance from West Badger Road that’s going all the way east, or from Lien Road coming all the way south, then you have [an] increased response time for ambulances if somebody’s having a heart attack or stroke, and you just aren’t going to see the transport times that are necessary.”
Tierney has proposed three different amendments that would staff the ninth ambulance.
Each of those amendments would staff the ambulance for part of next year before the staffing expenses would become permanent in 2021.
Laura Larson, the City Finance Department’s Budget and Program Evaluation Manager, says the cost of operating the ninth ambulance for a full year would be a little over $825,000, not including equipment and capital costs.
Larson also says two of Tierney’s proposals would begin staffing the ambulance next July, while a third scenario would begin staffing in October.
“The first one is to eliminate the police auditor position, funding in the Community Development Division, [and] funding for a new position at Warner Park as well as hourly staffing for their gym programming,” Larson says. “The second scenario is paid for by eliminating a series of new positions that were created in the mayor’s budget.”
“This final scenario would keep funding for the police auditor position, but reduce it from $200,000 to $125,000.”It also eliminates the new funding for community-building and engagement in the Community Development Division, and eliminates two of the positions created in Metro for Bus Rapid Transit.”
Regardless of whether the City Council adopts any of the amendments or not, and budgeting constraints notwithstanding, Fire Chief Davis says Madison could actually use 13 or 14 ambulances to adequately respond to the increasing needs of a growing population.
Marc Cohen is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin EMS Association. He says that need extends statewide, and stems in part from the fact that a municipality’s ability to fund ambulance services is limited by state-imposed levy limits.
That forces emergency response providers, which Cohen says are not considered providers of essential services under state law, to get creative with how they raise money.
“Just think that you were going to ask the police department or trash collection to hold spaghetti suppers or pancake breakfasts in order to buy tires for their [vehicles], or medical supplies that are going to save someone’s life. They’d laugh,” Cohen says. “And yet, [for] EMS in our state, that’s a staple of how they provide for themselves. Not raising money for their own selves, but to be able to provide life-saving, essential medical services.”
Cohen also says the Legislature could address this issue by allowing EMS to exceed the levy limit cap and making EMS an essential service like law enforcement, fire, and trash collection.
The City Council will meet tomorrow, November 12th, at 5:30 PM in City-County Building Room 201, to consider the amendments.
The mayor’s office did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.
This article’s cover image is courtesy of the City of Madison – Fire. The original post is here.