NYC pilot program uses 'fly cars,' ambulance fleet to cut emergency response times

Average medical call response time down 21 seconds since 2015, mayor says

The Fire Department of New York (FDNY) has launched a pilot program aimed at improving emergency response in the borough of the Bronx, Thomas MacMillan writes for the Wall Street Journal.

The borough had the most medical calls per person in the last year when compared with New York City's other boroughs, MacMillan reports.  

The program comes as fire departments throughout the country play a larger role in emergency medical care, MacMillan writes. According to FDNY data, staff members responded to 1.44 million medical emergencies last year, compared with 1.03 million in 1996.

Pilot program details

Under the pilot program, paramedics in the Bronx were equipped with 10 special sport utility vehicles, called "fly cars." Paramedics riding in the fly cars respond to emergencies but do not transport patients to the hospital. Instead, an ambulance that responds to emergencies along with the fly car handles the hospital transport, allowing paramedics in the fly cars to respond to additional emergencies.

In addition to the fly cars, the FDNY developed a five-ambulance "tactical response group" for the Bronx. Ambulances from the fleet can be deployed wherever they are needed instead of being assigned to a specific geographic area. The city also is testing a computerized triage system for 911 dispatchers, which could eventually replace the city's current flip card system for prioritizing emergency calls.

According to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D), the city has added $40 million for more ambulance shifts in the last two years and cut the average response time for medical calls by 21 seconds since 2015.

Ed Dolan, FDNY's deputy commissioner for strategy and policy, said, "What we're finding is that response times have improved more in the Bronx than any other borough."

Bronx paramedic Barbara Aziz said she thinks the lower response times are driven more by the tactical response group rather than the fly cars. However, she added that fly cars have helped her and other paramedics respond to more calls (MacMillan, Wall Street Journal, 2/4).

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