Slow to Respond: What Takes Philly Ambulances So Long?

Sixty-six percent of EMS units arrive to emergencies after nine minutes. What will it take to improve response times? The fire commissioner talked with NBC10 Investigators.

More than 271,000 calls for EMS help came into Philadelphia's 9-1-1 system last year, a massive number that has grown annually from years past, according to the city Fire Department, which oversees emergency medical response.

The city's 55 ambulances on patrol during peak hours — and 50 during overnight hours — have long struggled to meet the daily demand. A 2006 report by the City Controller found only 40 percent of ambulance runs took 9 minutes or less to arrive at the emergency scene.

But it's even less than previously thought, fire officials told NBC10 Investigators. They now say their records show only about 33 percent of ambulances arrive on scene within 9 minutes, an industry standard.

The jobs of Philadelphia EMS technicians and paramedics are among the busiest and most stressful in the city. Jeremiah Laster, a deputy chief with the Philadelphia Fire Department, gave NBC10 an insider’s look at a day in the life saving lives in America’s sixth-largest city.

Improving response times goes beyond getting more ambulances and paramedics on the streets, Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel said in an interview.

"We certainly think, to handle the demand we have today, we need more. That said, you know, we could add more forever, and we're not going to be able to respond our way out of this," Thiel said.

He noted that improved social services and healthcare and access to medication and addiction treatment would be preventative measures that in turn would improve ambulance response times.

The NBC10 Investigators found that ambulance response times in Philly are even slower than previously thought. George Spencer shows us why.

Thiel also pointed to department statistics that show EMS units do arrive within 9 minutes for 60 percent of "hot calls" — those 9-1-1 emergencies deemed highest priority.

Fire stations house ambulance units in between EMS runs. Here is a map of the city's 63 fire stations. (Click on individual stations to see what engine, ladder and rescue companies, as well as medic units, are housed at each location.)

Philadelphia ambulances arrive at an emergency location within nine minutes of a 9-1-1 call just 33 percent of the time. The 9-minute benchmark is an industry standard, according to experts. Here is what happens when a 9-1-1 call comes in.
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