CHICAGO, 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. He called for an expansion of dedicated personnel and reforms to how the city deploys departmental resources. Specifically, Vallas pledged to create Bureau of Emergency Medical Services within the Fire Department under a separate command structure. This will improve response times, utilize staff and equipment more efficiently, 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, […] 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. Ambulances make about 1,500 service runs, making it one of the busiest of these 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 table:

Table 1

City Active Ambulances Per 100,000 Residents
New York 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 in 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. Bringing Chicago just to parity with other major cities will require the addition of 10 to 20 more ambulances. The eventual goal will entail eventual transition of the responsibility of our medical service delivery from expensive fire engines to ambulances.

EMS staffing also necessitates expansion by an average of 10 to 12 paramedics per vehicle. Vallas also noted that there are substantially more firefighters 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. They will produce this income by providing EMS services to that are currently handled by private companies to major city events. Examples include major sporting events, Lollapalooza, and other major festivals. We will dedicate revenue from these services 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. This includes critical training for working with people 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.”