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New York City's emergency response times increase as police, fire departments prepare for budget cuts to offset cost of migrant services

Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

New York City's response times to fires and medical emergencies increased over the past year, according to the recently released Mayor's Management Report.

In fiscal year 2023, the end-to-end combined average response time to life-threatening medical emergencies by ambulances and fire companies was nine minutes and 50 seconds, a 20-second increase from the previous year, the report found. Ambulances averaged a 10-minute and 43-second response time, while fire companies took nine minutes and 23 seconds.

A 7% increase in "life-threatening incidents" from the previous year contributed to the city's slower response times, the report noted. During that same period, there was also a 2% increase in structural fires.

Longer response times to life-threatening medical emergencies for ambulances and fire companies have been on an upward trend since fiscal year 2019, the report revealed. Response times in the past year were 82 seconds longer than in fiscal year 2019 — a 16.1% jump.

There was a 52% increase in civilian fire deaths from fiscal year 2019 to 2023, the report found. The New York City Fire Department blamed the increase on more residents using e-bikes and e-scooters, which use lithium-ion batteries. City officials reported that there were more deaths caused by battery fires than by electrical fires this past year.

Response times are likely to increase further with upcoming budget cuts. Additionally, the city's largest private hospital provider, Northwell Wealth, announced that it reduced its ambulance coverage in eastern and central Queens. Earlier this year, the health provider stopped covering Staten Island.

Oren Barzilay, the president of the union Local 2507, told the New York Post that he does not expect the city's emergency response times to improve.

"We're on the brink of costing people's life if things don't change," Barzilay said. "[Unless] the city and state take EMS seriously as an essential service, we're going to see a total collapse of the system."

According to Barzilay, Northwell Wealth responded to 30% of emergency calls. FDNY EMS plans to provide coverage to those areas moving forward but has been ordered by the mayor to slash its budget.

"The budget cuts are a problem. Our ambulance crews were supposed to take over Northwell Health's units," Barzilay stated.

James Brosi, the president of the FDNY Uniformed Fire Officers Association, attributed the longer response times to an influx of emergency calls and the city's narrowing of streets in an effort to slow traffic, the Post reported.

"Seconds are critical when people's lives are at stake," Brosi explained. "With budget cuts looming, we must keep every apparatus in service and staffing levels high, so we can protect the lives and property of the people of New York."

New York City Mayor Eric Adams recently announced massive budget cuts to offset the cost of migrant services. The mayor aims to pull the city's budget back by more than 15%, including by slashing New York Police Department and FDNY overtime spending, a decision that has some residents concerned about safety. The city's Department of Correction and the Department of Sanitation will also be expected to cut overtime.

"The mayor will … issue a directive to implement an overtime reduction initiative for our city's four uniformed agencies (NYPD, FDNY, DOC/DSNY)," said Adams' budget director, Jacques Jiha. "These agencies must submit a plan to reduce year-to-year OT spending."

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