Tom Burke Arthur Kane and Tony Kovaleski of KMGH-Denver, used the example of the 33 minutes it took for ambulances to reach a major December airline crash to investigate flaws in the city’s emergency response system.
It took four minutes until the first ambulance was dispatched from Interstate 70 and Colorado Boulevard, which is 19 miles away. That ambulance was dispatched Code 9 — a non-emergency designation where the paramedics drive at normal speeds without turning on lights or sirens.
“There’s no reason that I can conceive of that a response to a confirmed crash of a commercial airliner, that the initial response would be non-emergency for transport ambulances,” said Bob Petre, a long-time Denver Health paramedic, who is president of the union. “It’s unbelievable.”
Sideras, who, along with Lindsey, reviewed documents obtained by the CALL7 investigators, said Denver’s Ambulance system is “broken.”
“There was a true failure in the system,” Sideras said.
Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper vowed the city’s sluggish response would not be repeated.
“When you’ve got a red alert, you still need to send the resources immediately that that situation is going to need,” Hickenlooper said. “It’s unacceptable. You can’t have from the moment the crash happens, an ambulance there in 33 minutes. That will never happen again.”
The Poynter Insitute’s Al Tompkins interviewed Kovaleski about the project. Kovaleski discussed the impetus for the story.
We have known about the problems inside the dispatch center and with Denver Health for nearly a year. Since last May, we have aired almost a dozen stories exposing problems with ambulance response times in Denver. Following December’s plane crash, it was a logical request to see how the ambulance system worked on the night of a mass casualty incident.