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Officials examine report that says some municipal ambulance response times dragged on for 14 to 23 m

July 14, 2014

Muskego — It took ambulances between 14 and 23 minutes to respond to five calls this year in Muskego, a former member of the city Public Safety Committee said, as he pleaded with city officials to see if things could be better.

"I'm not here to criticize or take away from the dedication of the firefighters and EMTs in the Tess Corners Fire Department," lifelong Muskego resident Jim Mayer said to the Common Council Public Safety Committee last week.

Mayer served with the Tess Corners Volunteer Fire Department for 13 years and is a captain and paramedic in the North Shore Fire Department. He also served three years on the public safety committee.

Response times of 14 to 23 minutes are not acceptable in a growing city of 24,000 people, Mayer said.

He verified those times with police dispatch, Mayer said, and there could be more than the five response times he found, as the list is not exhaustive, he said.

City officials must still verify those times, said Mayor Kathy Chiaverotti after the meeting. There may be an error.

"We wouldn't want the public to get concerned about something we have no facts on," she said.

Getting two or even three ambulance calls at the same time could explain the long wait times, if they are indeed correct, said Tess Corners Fire Chief Skip Wojnowski. He will check the dates and see what the circumstances were and report to the committee, he said.

But Mayer said, "I'm not sure anybody thinks 23 minutes is acceptable."

In response, committee chairman Alderman Kevin Kubacki said there could be reasons for them and the committee appeared to agree.

In the case of multiple calls, the department takes the most serious one first, said Alderwoman Eileen Madden who sits on the committee.

If the reasons for the delays really do involve multiple calls, that problem will only increase as the city grows, Mayer said.

The five incidents he uncovered involved calls for stroke symptoms (alleged response time 21 minutes), trouble breathing (16 minutes), seizure (19 minutes), hypertension (14 minutes), fall victim (23 minutes).

All but the seizure victim were in populated areas of the city. The seizure victim lives on the far south side of the city west of the Muskego Lakes Country Club.

"We have to monitor this," Kubacki said, which is what the committee also decided in 2010 when long response times triggered a requirement that the Tess Corners volunteers provide quarterly reports of response times. Mayer said he could not find reports for 2014 at City Hall when he attempted to verify the figures that way.

Instead of being sent to public safety committee chairman Kubacki, who recently took over the job, the reports were mistakenly routed to another alderman.

That mix up has now been corrected, and Kubacki just received the response time report for all of 2013.

He said this week that the report shows that of the 1,262 ambulance calls in 2013, 20 had response times of 15 or more minutes. That is about 1.6 percent of all medical calls. The longest wait was 19 minutes, he said.

He called the 1.6 percent impressive, but said the committee will still look into why the waits were so long for those 20 people.

"I don't know what the weather was that day," Kubacki said, it could have been a snowstorm. Similarly, sometimes people call back saying it isn't an emergency so haste isn't necessary or maybe there was a mechanical problem, he said.

"I'm guessing there's a particular reason, given the record over the long haul," he said. If they are exceptions, they should be treated as exceptions, he said.

Leaving the meeting, Mayer said, "I'm glad they're looking into the concerns."

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