Denver EMS takes 24 minutes to respond to call in downtown; Mayor Hancock, this is NOT acceptable

Welcome to the 5280Earlier this afternoon, while watching the Chelsea/Barcelona Champions League match at the British Bulldog in downtown Denver, a young woman collapsed. It was unclear what happened, but my best guess from what those closer to her were telling me was that it was an epileptic seizure and she may have hit her head on the concrete floor. I immediately dialed 911 and provided the dispatcher with all the information I could. I think some others in the bar were probably also calling, so the message that we had a woman down, nature of the incident unknown, please hurry was clearly communicated.

I noted the time. After about five minutes those around me were getting restless, wondering where the paramedics were. Fortunately, one of our fellow patrons was an EMT (or maybe two – it was hard for me to tell in the crowd). I noted that I wasn’t surprised – I’ve had issues with what we’ll charitably term “sluggish” emergency response in Denver before, and while that situation was police and not medical, I nonetheless have lower expectations than a citizen of one of America’s major league cities should have.

At about the 15 minute mark, when nobody could quite believe the ambulance hadn’t arrived yet, I placed another call to 911, and I’ll be honest, I raged a little in this one. I believe I said something to the effect that if they didn’t step on it the victim was in danger of dying of old age. A friend, five minutes later, called again and was told that EMS had been dispatched and should have been there by now.

The paramedics finally arrived around 24 minutes after the first 911 call was placed.

24 minutes. Pardon me if I’m still a little upset, but to repeat, that was 24. Fucking. Minutes. And just to be clear, we are not talking about a location that is remote or inaccessible. The British Bulldog sits at … well, here, look at the map. It’s a brisk five-minute walk from the very center of downtown and you could have driven back and forth to the nearest emergency room twice in the time it took EMS to arrive.

Fortunately the young woman seems to be okay. Within a couple of minutes after the EMTs sauntered in she was on her feet, and a huge round of thanks is due to the people in the bar who were able to help her.

None of that excuses a 24-minute response time. There are no excuses. If it turns out that there were 50 other emergencies at the same moment, I need to hear from somebody at City Hall explaining it. If one of the other 911 callers communicated that it was no big deal, I need City Hall to contact me with the name of that person because I want to have a face-to-face conversation with him or her.

I’m going to make sure this message is forwarded to Mayor Michael Hancock and while I don’t know that a massive investigation is called for, the citizens of this city need to know that it’s being looked into. 24 minutes is plenty of time to die. I’m trying very hard to remain calm and rational here, but if this is the best we can do, tell me now so I can start looking for a new candidate to support in the next election.


4 replies »

  1. Maybe somebody knows – is all EMS service in the city fully privatized? If so, does the city influence the awarding of contracts?

    In other words, do I need to be calling out specific hospitals and private providers here instead of the city?

  2. On Sunday I was playing soccer in Boulder when one of my teammates broke his fibula and tibia. It was bad enough to call 911 and we heard the sirens for both the EMT and firefighters within 5-10 minutes. This was on the North Boulder soccer fields and it took another 15 minutes for EMT to find someone to unlock the gate and fit the ambulance through the gate to get inside. The firefighters had to hop the fence on the far side of the fields because there was no access on that side of the Diagonal Highway.

    • Oh, damn. I had something like that happen in a game back in the ’80s. It was probably a half hour before they got there, but in that case we were at a complex a few miles from the city so there was at least sort of an excuse.

  3. Not sure how this happened cause it’s my understanding that Denver has a really great EMS system. Also, the more numerous fire departments almost always arrive before the Denver Health paramedics and the fire department would typically provide care until the paramedics take over and transport.