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Chicago FFs plan protests at NASCAR, DNC over paramedic, ambulance shortages

Chicago firefighter leaders said paramedics worked nearly 230,000 overtime hours to staff the city’s 80 ambulances last year, and they are on track to do the same in 2024

By Bill Carey

CHICAGO — Chicago firefighters are raising concerns about the city’s shortage of paramedics and ambulances, which they believe compromises public safety.

The firefighters plan to protest at next week’s NASCAR event and outside the Democratic National Convention in August to call for improvements to be included in their new union contract, CBS Chicago reported.

“There are days every day where the alarm office is saying, ‘Is there an ambulance available? Is anybody available?” Battalion Chief Patrick Cleary said. “That’s in the entire city, and then, in the meantime, they’re calling on the engines and trucks to report to those scenes until an ambulance can get there.”

Cleary, president of the firefighters’ union, and Battalion Chief Tony Martin of the firefighters’ pension fund, both say that working conditions have become so poor that burnout is at an all-time high, especially for paramedics, due to a staffing shortage.

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They and their fellow firefighters plan to march in protest down Michigan Avenue during next month’s NASCAR Street Race event and at the Democratic National Convention in August.

Cleary and Martin said that paramedics worked nearly 230,000 overtime hours to staff the city’s 80 ambulances last year, and they are on track to do the same in 2024.

The fire department sends a fire truck or engine to medical emergencies when no ambulance is available. Of the city’s 161 fire trucks and engines, 74 must have at least one paramedic to provide life-saving assistance until an ambulance arrives.

A significant paramedic shortage often leaves the city without any on fire apparatus. CBS Chicago found records showing that on June 16, 12 fire trucks and engines lacked the required paramedics.

Cleary and Martin also said the shortage affects the firefighters’ well-being.

“It just demonizes, you know, how they feel about work, coming into work,” Cleary said. “They’re upset. They’re overworked, and now, they’re treating patients. It’s not good.”