2004-02-18 / Editorials


Response Time Lags Put Lives, Property In Peril

Last week, Assemblymember Brian McLaughlin pointed out that Queens has the lowest fire response rate of all five boroughs. Response time during the past six months was 16 seconds—more than a quarter of a minute—slower than during the same period in 2002.

Those 16 seconds may not sound like much of a slowdown. But consider: the intensity of a fire doubles every 30 seconds. To someone trapped in a room with fire eating away at the walls and the only means of escape a plunge out a window, the timely arrival of a hook and ladder company literally means the difference between life and death. If that hook and ladder company and its pumper engine counterpart don’t get to a fire scene fast enough, too often all that’s left for them to do is put out the blaze and recover the victims’ remains. A structural fire response time delay of 13.6 seconds is equally unacceptable. While they may be unoccupied at the time of a blaze, commercial, manufacturing and office buildings destroyed by fire can only put a serious hole in this borough’s already severely challenged economy.

Emergency medical technician response time lags, as well, McLaughlin pointed out. The ideal response time for medical emergencies, according to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is four minutes and 14 seconds. That may be the case elsewhere in New York City, but in Queens average response time in a medical emergency stretches to five minutes and 49.6 seconds—almost a full minute longer. Seconds count in a medical emergency as well. If someone has stopped breathing due to a heart attack, stroke or choking on food, for example, irreversible brain damage sets in within five to six minutes for an adult. The window is even narrower for children who choke on food or foreign objects. Not every layman knows the basics of closed-chest massage and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, either. If an EMT team can’t get to a victim within a very few minutes, the chances of a favorable outcome—a live patient with his or her faculties intact—diminish markedly.

McLaughlin noted that more than 30 percent of the people living in his own district are considered elderly. Indeed, the borough as a whole has one of the largest concentrations of senior citizens in the region. Along with young children, this is a group for which seconds count in any kind of emergency— medical, fire or any other. The old and the young constitute two especially vulnerable populations.

McLaughlin also noted that thousands of homeowners live in his 25th Assembly district. This is true in large part of many other locales throughout the borough. One-, two- and three-family homes make up much of the borough’s housing stock. Besides constituting a major part of the borough’s tax base, many of these homes are the most substantial asset their owners possess. A fire can wipe out a homeowner financially as well as remove a revenue resource from city coffers. Nor are multi-family dwellings immune from fire damage. Also, the borough is pocked with illegal conversions—dwellings converted into crowded warrens holding many more residents than their original Certificates of Occupancy called for. Illegal they may be, but their inhabitants are still entitled to timely response on the part of their local fire companies.

Some response time delays are unavoidable—many districts are bisected by cemeteries, parks or highways, for example. These situations, however, call for more firehouses and EMS base stations, not fewer. "This borough’s population of more than two million people deserve a response time that is second to none," McLaughlin declared. We couldn’t agree more. The safety of the lives and property of the citizens of this borough cannot be compromised.

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