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More EMS mess


There’s nothing like a Detroit police shooting to highlight what’s wrong with the city’s Emergency Medical Services. Last week, Detroit Police Officer David Krupinski shot Errol Shaw Sr. — a deaf man who was brandishing a rake. The police reportedly waited 12 minutes for an EMS ambulance to arrive at Shaw’s west side home before the cops rushed him to Sinai-Grace Hospital, where he died on the operating room table.

When an EMS vehicle did arrive — at least 23 minutes after the first of two 911 calls were placed — the ambulance was overheating because a coolant hose burst, according to Al Kirkland, representative of the paramedics union.

Kirkland says that normal protocol is to send the nearest ambulance to an emergency. In Shaw’s case, he says, the dispatcher assigned the run to a medical unit, but canceled that to give the call to a closer unit. The dispatcher did this at least four more times, says Kirkland, which caused the delay.

“They did play hot potato with the run,” he says. “It makes sense to try and give it to a closer unit, but it can cause delays.”

But the delay — and the fact that the responding ambulance overheated — does not surprise Kirkland, who has been a Detroit paramedic 23 years.

“All of these incidents are indicative of EMS’s history: not enough units are available and that they are breaking down,” he says.

Metro Times reported last month (“The EMS Mess,” MT, Aug. 9-15) that Detroit’s EMS average response time is about 12 minutes. According to Melanie Young, American Heart Association communications manager, EMS should respond to cardiac emergencies in no more than five minutes to prevent irreparable damage.

“No comment,” is all Executive Fire Department Commissioner Charles Wilson had to say.

Ann Mullen contributed to News Hits, which is edited by Curt Guyette. He can be reached at 313-202-8004 or