Dallas fire chief taking steps to combat ambulance shortage

The Dallas fire chief is taking steps to get a handle on the ambulance shortage plaguing the city.

Every year in Dallas, the call volume for ambulances goes up. But the city hasn't increased the number of ambulances. It's created a gap that means when you call 911, the city of Dallas could be out of ambulances.

A chief says that a few times this year, the city has run out of ambulances.

In an emergency, every second counts. It's why experts recommend cities always have half of their ambulances available to respond at any given time.

But according to the most recent numbers in Dallas, the average available rate was only about a quarter of the city's ambulances.

“Sometimes, we have a shortage of ambulances. We have a large city, large call volume,” said Dallas Fire Chief David Coatney. “A few times over 2017, we've run out of units."

The chief says when there is a shortage of ambulances, the city can use private ambulances or fire trucks.

"It may create a delay for an actual ambulance to get to the scene. But a lot of cases — especially first responder unit, firefighter unit— you have paramedics on every fire unit in Dallas,” Coatney said. “Well, most have paramedics on board. And they can start the care immediately. May be a slight delay in the transport of a patient, but we've found that to be roughly negligible.”

The chief says ideally a city the size of Dallas would have 52 units. Dallas has 40, but it did get one new unit this year, and another unit next year is on the books.

In the meantime, Coatney is implementing new staffing strategies and overtime to prevent running out. But he admits overtimes can’t be a permanent solution.

“There's always work to do though,” he said. “If you keep asking people to work overtime, eventually they get worn out."

When asked about how the average ambulance response time has changed over the years in Dallas, the city could not immediately provide the numbers.