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News report: Chicago fire commissioner orders dispatchers to not tell firefighters there are ‘no ambulances’

Firefighters also told not to ask over radio if there are available ambulances

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Here’s a good lesson in how to make a bad reputation management issue worse. The City of Chicago has been struggling for some time due to a shortage of ambulances. The mayor promises help is on the way. In the meantime, the reality on the street is firefighters are waiting a long time with seriously ill or injured patients and no way to transport them to the hospital. Pam Zekman of WBBM-TV was able to document these long waits by listening to Chicago Fire Department radio traffic.

Reporter Zekman’s work brought a quick solution to the problem from city officials. The solution does nothing to shorten wait times for ambulances, but it is does attempt to keep reporters and the public from knowing about the long delays. An order (see below) from Chicago Fire Commissioner Richard Ford tells dispatchers and firefighters to stop talking about the ambulance shortage on the CFD radio.

I’m sure every one of you reading this could have predicted exactly what was going to happen with that written order from Commissioner Ford as soon as it was distributed. Yes, it ended up in the hands of Pam Zekman and was shown on TV.

The result of all of this is not only is there an ambulance shortage that’s continuing, city officials now give the impression they’re involved in a cover-up. It’s hard to imagine how anyone thought this was a good strategy.

Pam Zekman, WBBM-TV:

Just hours after we started asking questions about these cases, dispatchers at the 911 center got an email from the man who runs the city’s paramedic program.

Fire Commissioner Richard Ford wrote, “The process of indicating that CFD is out of available ambulances or asking for any available ambulances over the radio will no longer be allowed.”

That means radio dispatches like the ones quoted earlier are now banned.

Paramedic Field Chief Patrick Fitzmaurice has been blowing the whistle on Chicago’s ambulance shortage for years. We showed him the fire commissioner’s order.

“Oh wow. Per the fire commissioner now,” Fitzmaurice said. “He’s going to cover this up. This is a cover-up.”

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