The embattled emergency service defended itself Wednesday after it took more than a half hour to respond when a girl fainted during a high profile Christine Quinn press conference. In the end, Hatzolah was called.
The Fire Department of New York, which runs the ambulance system, said that the call by the city council speaker was ranked nonemergency, and the heat wave was forcing it to prioritize by diverting vehicles and personnel to more critical needs.
“With a high volume of calls during extreme heat, a call for a non-life-threatening injury with an alert patient being treated by a trained EMT is appropriately not deemed a high priority, which in some cases like this one, means that it takes longer for an ambulance to get to the scene,” a department statement said. “But it is critical that life-saving resources be prioritized and used for high-priority, life-threatening incidents.”
After waiting for more than 30 minutes, Quinn phoned Fire Department chief Sal Cassandro, and not reaching him, called Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly.
“Why don’t you call Hatzolah?” Kelly asked.
The Williamsburg Hatzolah was called. Two men who were fasting and clad in crocs left in middle of Kinos and were on scene within four minutes.
FDNY said that emergency calls are ranked according to urgency. The call about the girl, a summer intern to Councilwoman Diana Reyna, a Brooklyn Democrat who was with Quinn at the press conference, initially came in as non-life-threatening, ranked 5 out of 8, with 1 being the most urgent.
Calls with life-threatening emergencies are handled first, and special ambulances are kept on reserve so that help can arrive as quickly as possible. There were dozens of emergency jobs at the time, due in part to the high heat, officials said.
Quinn said the girl apparently was overcome by the heat wave around noon as the temperatures hit the low 90s. A police officer who’s a trained emergency medical technician helped the girl, who by then was conscious and breathing. The girl was taken to a hospital but was released later.
But Quinn, who is running for mayor, said the goal for a response for a non-life-threatening emergency should be 12 to 15 minutes. She called for an increase in the number of ambulances on hand during heat waves.
The city’s emergency response system has been under fire recently after a series of glitches that caused delays and forced operators to use pen and paper for an hour at a time. But this incident was not an outcome of those issues, officials said.
City Comptroller John Liu, another mayoral candidate, also sent out a statement condemning the delay and thanking Hatzolah.
“Many thanks to the Hatzolah volunteers who stepped forward at a moment’s notice, even on their fasting day, when the emergency response system failed and they were most needed,” Liu said. “New Yorkers are fortunate that these selfless emergency responders are willing to put it all on the line in order to ensure the health and well-being of those in need. We all owe you a debt of gratitude. A hearty Yasher Koach to you, Hatzolah.”
As reported in Wednesday’s Hamodia, Yosef Levy, the first responder at the scene and a 22-year Hatzolah veteran with the code W39, said that Quinn gave him her mobile phone number, and told him to call her whenever he needed anything.
“She knew it was Tishah B’Av and she knew we were fasting,” Levy said. “I told her good luck with her elections, I hope she wins.”
“I’d like to thank Joseph Levy and Mutty Klein, the Hatzolah volunteers who arrived with an ambulance,” Quinn said in an email to Hamodia. “The City is indebted to them for everything that they do every day to help New Yorkers in need of emergency medical attention.”
“Nobody beats Hatzolah,” Reyna told Levy. “Hatzolah is always there when we need them.”
Councilman David Greenfield, a Brooklyn Democrat and an Orthodox Jew, praised Hatzolah’s response, which, he said, “reinforced what we already knew — our community is extremely fortunate to have capable and dedicated volunteers looking out for us around the clock.”