Lagging ambulance response times in San Francisco led Supervisor London Breed on Tuesday to introduce a request for a ballot measure requiring the fire department to maintain speedy response times for emergency medical services.
Breed, a former fire commissioner, said the measure will be similar to the city’s 2005 Proposition F, which required the city to, among other things, provide adequate staff to respond to all fire, medical and other emergencies and prohibited the reduction of services below a specified level.
Breed’s intention is to accommodate the increased demand on the fire department due to the growing population of The City so that during an emergency, no one has to wait extended periods for services or an ambulance:
“This is a serious ongoing threat to public safety.”
She said paramedics and firefighters don’t have the tools they need to do their jobs right. San Francisco fire spokeswoman Mindy Talmadge said she agrees with Breed in that the department’s staffing levels are not sufficiently meeting the growing demand for emergency services.
Talmadge said this is largely due to the fact that from 1981 until 2008, the fire department operated under the San Francisco Exclusive Operating Area, making them responsible for nearly all 911 calls across the city.
In 2008, however, the California Emergency Medical Services Authority rescinded the Exclusive Operating Area, opening the city up to private ambulance companies to help with emergency response.
Then in 2012, the state agency agreed to reestablish the Exclusive Operating Area in San Francisco, but during those previous six years, the department’s emergency medical service positions were not refilled as employees retired, Talmadge said.
Now with The City’s population booming and the city’s Exclusive Operating Area reestablished with only two private ambulance companies authorized to support it, responding to calls has been challenging, according to Talmadge:
“We are trying to staff up to meet the demand.”
Breed said that in August alone, there were 374 cases in which it took more than 20 minutes for ambulances to arrive.
Talmadge said while those were not life-threatening emergencies, the department aims to get their response to under 20 minutes, but sometimes falls short as ambulances are rerouted for life-threatening emergencies.
Breed said the ballot measure would ensure that The City’s emergency medical services crisis is resolved and that residents can get timely emergency services.