HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — Minutes count when there is a medical emergency, but some ambulance response times are much longer than they should be. Wilson Valez had to wait 20 minutes for an ambulance after being shot in Hartford in March.
“I got shot seven times,” he said. “One bullet hit me in the back of the neck toward my head, and then my front, my back, my arm.”
Lying on a Hartford sidewalk, Valez called his wife to tell her he was dying.
“I prayed to God that I wasn’t, but just in case, I called my wife to tell her that I loved her,” he said.
Police and firefighters were on the scene in seconds, but an ambulance, or 10-10 in radio language, wasn’t.
“No 10-10 available.”
Firefighters on the scene asked for an ambulance four minutes after they arrived.
“Do we have an ambulance responding?”
“We’re going to try to call back. Nobody has signed on with us yet.”
Another 10 minutes: “Our companies are administering EMS at this time, waiting on our 10-10”
Then 12 minutes after the first call: “ETA on our ambulance?”
Then 14 minutes: “Do we have an ambulance responding?”
Again, 15 minutes since Valez had been shot: “can I get another ETA?”
“I’m surprised I hung in there,” Valez said. “And I was conscious all the way through.”
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Before the ambulance showed up, he laid for 20 minutes, feeling the life fade from his body. Twenty-four minutes after the shooting, he arrived at St. Francis Hospital, where his life was saved.
The News 8 Investigators looked at 31,000 emergency calls ambulances responded to in Hartford. In 1,500 of those calls, about five-percent, it took an ambulance 20 minutes of longer to arrive. According to our analysis, on average, ambulances take 11 minutes to get to a call in Hartford. The Hartford Fire Department, which also responds to these calls, is paying close attention to the issue.
“We’re looking at all sorts of opportunities and changes to help improve those response times.”
Part of the issue is getting a call to an ambulance. When 911 is called in Hartford in Hartford, a dispatcher for the city takes the call, then calls an ambulance company, who then tells an ambulance where to go. City sources say that game of telephone slows things down and causes delays.
“It can potentially affect response time to some extent.”
Neither ambulance company that operates in Hartford, AMR or Aetna, have contracts with the city. They make money on a call-by-call basis. The city is considering changes to that system, not signing an ambulance contract, but possibly merging computer systems to cut down on that game of telephone. That is expected to shave two minutes off of those response times.
Valez is angry at the system, which he says failed him.
“When I’m three minutes away from the hospital, how is that?”
City leaders have already started putting the new system in place. At a September meeting, they hope to take more steps to bring ambulance response times further down.