Chicago criticized for sending fire trucks on EMS calls

The department has half as many ambulances, which are busy most of the day, as they do fire trucks

By FireRescue1 Staff

CHICAGO — Chicago is defending its decision to send fire trucks – instead of ambulances – to medical calls.

NPR reported that there are half as many ambulances as there are fire trucks, and Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford said the ambulances are busy.

"They'll hit the street at 7 o'clock in the morning and may not come back to the firehouse at all until 7 o'clock the next morning," Langford said.

The fire trucks, Langford said, are less busy.

"They save valuable time by sending the closest vehicle, which is usually a fire truck that has at least one paramedic and a lot of equipment on it," he said.

However, most cities are cutting down on their use of fire trucks for medical calls.

"I think everybody can agree that the ladder truck responding to someone who may have a sprained ankle is not the best use of our public resources," Misty Bruckner, who researched the problem at the Public Policy Center at Wichita State, said.

Langford disagreed, saying officials shouldn't worry about what kind of vehicle arrives to an emergency.

"Don't look at the conveyance," he said. "Look at the care."

Veteran Chicago paramedic Rich Raney said an ambulance is a patient's best line of defense.

"When you get a stroke patient or a trauma patient, the most important thing is that they be transported to the hospital as quickly as possible," Raney said. "As they say with stroke patients, time is brain, basically."

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