The community started buzzing last week when news broke about the most recent proposed slashes to the fire department, which would’ve changed the hours of five medic units across the city, including two in South Philly Monday.
But after calls were placed to City Council members, the plans were at least temporarily put on hold.
Medic 11, Engine 49, 13th and Shunk streets, was proposed to halt night services and operate from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. whereas Medic 35, Ladder 5, Broad and Fitzwater streets, was scheduled to change from part-time to a 24-hour service.
Medic 11 was notified via a memorandum of the expected change July 1, but with no reason why, said a source with the fire department, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
“It doesn’t make sense,” the source said.
“That makes even less sense,” added Ed Davis of 13th and Shunk streets, who thought it may have been a result of the city’s budget cuts. “So what are they saving? Basically what they’re doing is cutting this area without saving money.”
After calls from residents and even more from firefighters and paramedics to Councilman Frank DiCicco’s office in addition to many resident’s phoning Council President Anna Verna’s office, the two became aware of the situation and called Mayor Michael Nutter and Philadelphia Fire Department Commissioner Lloyd Ayers.
“This is a basic city service providing EMT services for the people, so I don’t blame them for being upset,” Verna spokesman Anthony Radwanski said.
This resulted in a reversal until the rationale behind it is presented, he said.
“[Fire department officials] are not planning on closing it as we speak,” Radwanski said last Thursday following Verna and DiCicco’s meeting with Ayers. “The problem is they’re going to make some cuts. They had promised to not make any cuts until they give [Verna] a full written report.”
However, DiCicco’s legislative director Brian Abernathy said, the scheduled changes were not due to budget cuts, but a result of service needs.
“There are certainly concerns with medic coverage in other portions of South Philly,” he said, adding the fire department wanted to move the 24-hour service to Medic 35 because it had “a lack of medical coverage as well as a more dense neighborhood with an aging population.”
“We’re aware of the situation, we’re working with the department to ensure safety and we’re going to continue to do that,” Abernathy said. “And if we feel that anybody’s safety is jeopardized, we’ll certainly actively intervene.”
The fire department’s Executive Chief Daniel Williams did not return calls before press time and was out of the office this week.
But there also is a large senior citizen population in the area of 13th and Shunk, which could be impacted, the source with the fire department said.
“They can say they’re not taking it away, but you are taking it away,” the source said.
Medic 11 would lose half — or four — of its paramedics if the proposed cuts eventually take affect. It has four platoons — two of which were scheduled to transfer to Medic 35 Monday, the source said.
“The paramedics [at Medic 11] are not happy at all,” the source said. “They’ve all been here for a while. They like it down here.”
Concerned about the overall impact, a city paramedic, who did not wish to be named, heard the change was due to complaints following a slow response to an evening incident near the Kimmel Center at Broad and Spruce streets a few weeks ago, but questioned its choice of timing.
“They’re sneaking this by on a holiday,” he said.
The city’s five-year plan for fiscal years 2009-2013 stated that in order to improve response times, the Philadelphia Fire Department “will continue to expand as many units to 24/7 operation as needed to meet demand.”
However, the latest measure could turn three medic units to 12-hour operations while expanding two into 24-hour operation. The proposed changes included one Northeast medic going from part-time to a 24-hours, as well as a Northeast and a Southwest unit changing from 24 hours to a 12-hour night unit, from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays.
As a result, the citywide impact is huge, the paramedic said.
“Everything that they do to EMS is going to affect everyone,” he said.
Unlike many nearby South Philly units that are basic life support medic units, Medic 11 is a 24-hour advanced life support unit. The only other advanced units operating after hours in the area are Medic 37, 2301 S. 24th St., which is about 1.5 miles west of Medic 11 and Medic 21, 601 South St., which is about 3.5 miles away from Medic 11 as well as Medic 35, which is almost two miles north of Medic 11, if the switch would take place.
Twelve-hour day advanced units currently include Medic 27, 1357 S. 12th St.; Medic 40, 3023 Grays Ferry Ave., and Medic 35. And basic units, which are able to keep people breathing and their heart beating, but cannot administer drugs as advanced units can, a source said, include Medic 14B, 1200 S. 20th St., which was formerly advanced, and Medic 43B, 414 Snyder Ave.
Medic 11, the source said, does not always serve just the local community as it goes “anywhere and everywhere in the city” adding the unit commonly responds to West Philly and the Northeast making wait times sometimes around 25 minutes.
If the change were to take place, it could be disastrous for certain parts of the community that are farther away from the open units, said the paramedic.
“In South Philly, you have a lot of real calls — real sick people. If someone in South Philly calls, there isn’t a squad in the area,” he said.
Previous fire department changes have already hit South Philly with the closing of Ladder 11, Engine 10, 1357 S. 12th Street, Engine 1 at Broad and Fitzwater streets — where Medic 35 is located — and others throughout the city as the result of last year’s budget tightening.
“The rumor is there’s going to be more,” the source said.
The neighbors were up in arms about the decision especially because they were not informed, Judy Cerrone, of Broad Street and Packer Avenue, said.
“Otherwise we would have had a rally and protested,” she said adding that about 15 years ago the community saved Medic 11’s advanced life support.
Currently Medic 11 serves a vast portion of South Philadelphia including the Sports Complex, Navy Yard and Sunoco Refinery. Longer wait times and possible deaths could result without the neighborhood unit open during the night, Cerrone said, who serves as the president of the Stadium Community Council.
“That can’t happen,” she said. “To be honest, we won’t allow it to happen.”
Marge Dagostino, of 11th and Porter streets, felt that she waited long enough for an ambulance after having a heart attack a number of years ago.
“That’s not fair,” she said of the proposed cut to hours. “That’s not fair to us.”
Closer to Medic 35, residents were happy about the proposed expanded service in their area.
“I think we need it,” Willie Kitchen, of 15th and Fitzwater streets, said. “It’s right around the corner. I don’t know if we need it more, but if we’re getting more, it’s great.”
Bob Tooey, of Fitzwater and Hicks streets said senior citizen homes might have played a role in the proposed switch noting three in the area.
“It’s too bad they can’t all be 24 hours,” he said. SPR
Contact Staff Writer Amanda Snyder at email@example.com or ext. 117.