Vallas Pledges Major Reforms to Chicago’s Emergency Management Services

JULY 31, 2018 – Paul Vallas, candidate for mayor, today called for a major overhaul to the Chicago Fire Department’s Emergency Medical Services (EMS) unit, calling for an expansion of dedicated personnel and reforms to how departmental resources are deployed. Specifically, Vallas pledged to create Bureau of Emergency Medical Services within the Fire Department
under a separate command structure, which would improve response times, more efficiently utilize staff and equipment and create opportunities for the department to earn additional revenues through expanded services in the private sector.

“Emergency medical personnel are among our most important front-line responders and providing them with the necessary tools to do their jobs most effectively, is not only critical to EMS personnel, but also the public they serve,” Vallas said.

Chicago’s EMS unit handles a daily average of roughly 2,000 service requests and ambulances make about 1,500 service runs, making it one of the busiest such units in the nation. However, the department is severely under resourced compared to many of its peer departments. Chicago has fewer than one thousand dedicated EMS personnel and 75 operational ambulances. Chicago’s ambulance fleet significantly trails that of the other five most populous cities in the nation, as shown in the following figure:

City     Active Ambulances   Per 100,000 Residents
N.Y.                   651                     7.62
L.A.                   134                      3.37
Chicago              75                       2.77
Houston            92                       3.99
Philadelphia     75                       4.78

Chicago has the lowest number of ambulances per capita among the Top 5 cities the nation. In aggregate, Chicago has 39.4% fewer ambulances per capita than the other Top 5 cities in the U.S.

Vallas called for the immediate activation of five new state-of-the-art ambulances to the City’s fleet, which were purchased but are currently mothballed. To just bring Chicago to parity with other major cities would require the addition of 10 to 20 more ambulances. The eventual goal would be to eventually transition most medical service delivery to ambulances from the much more expensive fire engines currently used.

EMS staffing would also need to be expanded by an average of 10 to 12 paramedics per vehicle. Vallas also noted that there are substantially more fire fighters who could be cross-trained to handle paramedic functions, as is increasingly common in Chicago’s suburbs and cities around the nation.

Given recent changes in federal health insurance reimbursement rules, Vallas noted that Chicago’s EMS services could also generate potentially substantial income by providing EMS services to that are currently handled by private companies to major city events, such as major sporting venues, Lollapalooza and other major music and community festivals. Revenue from these services would be dedicated to help fund necessary departmental equipment and personnel, and perhaps decrease funding needs for the department solely from the City’s corporate fund.

Separately, Vallas charged that in addition to the severe ambulance shortage, other important equipment and training has also been woefully neglected, including critical training for dealing with persons with serious mental health conditions. Further, Chicago Fire Department EMS personnel have confidentially alleged that they were stripped of important life-saving equipment.

“Despite the critical mission of EMS and the sensitivity of their operations, there is significant evidence that the mayor’s office has been playing politics with the operations of this unit,” Vallas said. “A number of city EMS employees have confidentially informed me that the mayor’s office is punishing the unit because some of its members supported Jesus Garcia in the 2015 elections. Among the charges of interference has been that important life safety equipment they previously had was taken away.”