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Denver Fire data shows how long firefighters waited for Denver Health paramedics

Fire crews waited more than 5 minutes on 16% of calls in 2021
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Posted at 10:26 PM, Jun 30, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-01 00:26:32-04

Denver firefighters waited more than 10 minutes at a scene for Denver Health paramedics nearly 8,000 times in 2021 and waited more than five minutes on roughly 16% of medical calls last year, according to data obtained by Denver7 Investigates.

In addition to the data, Denver7 Investigates also combed through several days worth of radio communications and emails, and found multiple instances of Denver firefighters expressing frustration that a Denver Health ambulance was delayed or not yet dispatched because none were available to respond to an emergency call.

One correspondence noted a 25-minute response time.

“There’s been a lack of accountability,” said one firefighter, who spoke to Denver7 Investigates in silhouette with a disguised voice to protect his job. The firefighter said waiting for Denver Health ambulances was a regular occurrence.

Kevin Apuron, a former Denver firefighter, said that if an ambulance was delayed or didn’t respond to an emergency call, there wasn’t much firefighters could do while waiting.

Denver7 Investigates previously reported that Denver firefighters were prevented from using some advanced life-saving techniques while on the job. That policy is now in the process of changing.

The database of Denver Fire wait times is managed by the Denver Fire Department and shows how long firefighters waited on scene for ambulances to arrive in 2021.

It showed 22,628 calls in which firefighters waited more than five minutes at a scene for a Denver Health Ambulance to respond. The database included:

  • 7,816 calls in which firefighters waited more than 10 minutes. 
  • 1,621 calls in which firefighters waited more than 20 minutes. 
  • 459 calls in which firefighters waited more than 30 minutes. 
  • 141 calls in which firefighters waited more than 40 minutes. 

“That’s a problem,” said Denver City Councilman Kevin Flynn, when seeing the data. “Why can’t we get there?”

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In a statement, Denver Health called the database “misleading as it does not always accurately represent the response time for Denver Health paramedics or the actual time that it took for a Denver Health ambulance to arrive on the scene of a particular call.”

The statement also noted, “Every 911 call represents a unique, individual circumstance that demands a particular response based on many factors, including the level of emergency, if an ambulance is required and when an ambulance is added to a call. For some calls, ambulances are not immediately assigned or required.”

Denver Fire defended its data and wrote in a statement, “We firmly support the accuracy and methodology [of the data].”

In analyzing radio communications, Denver7 Investigates came across multiple calls at 6:42 a.m. on Dec. 1, 2021, with fire crews asking for updates on ambulances. Per those radio calls, there were no ambulances available for three Denver residents who needed emergency help. All three calls were within a 4-mile radius.

In an email from a firefighter working that day obtained by Denver7 Investigates, the firefighter referenced waiting more than 30 minutes for an emergency call.

“This seems unacceptable,” the firefighter wrote. “Three other units on calls in different parts of the city were waiting for ambulances at the same time.”

Another email from a firefighter working later that same month said they had talked with an ambulance crew and “they said there were only four ambulances on the street for the entire city.”

Despite saying that it was not fair to draw conclusions from Denver Fire’s database, Denver Health declined to provide its response database and would not agree to an on-camera interview.

Flynn believes that Denver Health should answer questions about any issues with response.

“I think Denver Health should tell the people of Denver what’s the problem here and how do we solve it, more importantly,” he said.

Click here to read Denver Health's full statement.