Mayor Dennis Archer took office in 1994, promising to make a brighter future for Detroiters. No doubt this is true for stadium- and casino-lovers, but for those who prefer basic city services, things are still looking much as the did in the previous century. The list reflecting Archer’s lackluster performance is a long one, including faulty streetlights, rundown parks, long-neglected neighborhoods and a Police Department that has attracted the scrutiny of everyone from the U.S. Justice Department to Amnesty International. Then there’s the city’s Emergency Medical Services …
In a 1996 memo written by the then-Deputy Fire Commissioner Richard Stein to one of the mayor’s assistants, Stein listed nine ways to “better serve” citizens requesting an ambulance. After obtaining a copy of said memo, News Hits last week contacted Stein, who now oversees public safety under Archer. According to Stein, there’s been little improvement in eight of the nine areas addressed in his memo.
“We do have an adequate number of ambulances now. … At peak demand times (4 p.m. to 3 a.m.) we have up to 29 ambulances on the street,” said Stein regarding his 1996 criticism that the 22-ambulance fleet was “insufficient” to serve the public.
What the city has not done — to name just a few of Stein’s nine — is hire enough staff to repair the rundown fleet, establish a nonemergency number (the Police Department is currently testing this) and make firefighters first responders, requiring them to respond to EMS calls (which the fire fighters union is hotly contesting in contract negotiations with the city).
As dismal as that one-for-nine batting average sounds, the reality is even worse, says Al Kirkland, who heads the EMS union, International Union of Operating Engineers Local 547. Kirkland, who has been with EMS since 1989, contends that not one of the EMS improvements Stein called for has been implemented.
“It’s true that there are 29 ambulances for peak times, (but) that’s only peak time,” explains Kirkland. “There are still regular occurrences where there are no units (ambulances) available when people call for them.”
Kirkland says that the overburdened fleet’s average response time is about 12 minutes, when it should be about nine minutes.
Stein also wrote in his 1996 memo that “we cannot continue to bury our heads in the sand” when it comes to EMS and the 130,000 runs the small fleet handles annually. Asked if he thought the city was continuing to bury its head in the sand, Stein said, “Absolutely not.”
But Kirkland says, “I think the city has a history of doing that.”Ann Mullen contributed to News Hits, which is edited by Curt Guyette. He can be reached at 313-202-8004 or firstname.lastname@example.org