ST. LOUIS, Mo. – We hear it time and time again that minutes save lives, but as St. Louisans depend on ambulances when they need them most, new data reveals an ambulance may not be available.
In Forest Park, Annita Crawford walks her dog every day. She loves being outside.
“I fish here once or twice a week,” Crawford said.
It’s part of Crawford’s daily exercise and an attempt to keep away from the nearby hospital.
“I hear a lot of (ambulances) going down the street over here,” Crawford said.
Finding an available ambulance may be more of a challenge, though.
No Unit Available
During a 30-day span in the month of August, St. Louis Fire records, obtained by the FOX Files, reveal 213 times the city had no ambulance available or what the city classifies as No Unit Available (NUA).
St. Louis Fire Department Chief Dennis Jenkerson said the time the city is without an available ambulance can range.
“A lot of times, that NUA will last two, three, four minutes then they come right back in,” Jenkerson said. “Other times it will last 15 or 20 minutes.”
Jenkerson said he’s concerned about it every day.
When there’s no medic unit available and an emergency call comes in, Jenkerson said a fire truck still responds within four to six minutes.
“On our fire trucks, we always have EMTs and quite often, we have paramedics as well,” Jenkerson said.
The long-time fire chief said vacancies have stacked up since COVID. He's down 54% of his full-time paramedics but has been able to keep ambulances on the street with part-time medics.
"That's starting to change now, and we're starting to get more people who want to go from part-time basis to full-time," Jenkerson said.
The starting salary for a city paramedic is $50,752 and the maximum a paramedic can receive is $72,202, according to the city's website.
Right now, staffing levels allow anywhere from six to 10 city ambulances in St. Louis. When one arrives at a hospital, Jenkerson said there's about a 20-minute window before a unit can be available again.
"They don't back into the bay, slide the person out and go right back into service. There's some paperwork that needs to be done," he said. "They're trying to refresh, trying to restock and clean their ambulances up. The back of these ambulances have to be ready for the next call."
The chief is battling another fire, though. Even if he were to be fully staffed, he may not have enough units to staff the rig.
Battling Another Fire
The FOX Files captured video at the city's garage on Laclede. The fire department confirmed 15 ambulances are down, waiting to be serviced.
"A lot of our ambulances right now that need maintenance, we're having a very difficult time getting parts that are required to keep these units on the road," he said.
Jenkerson said he's unaware of any instance where someone died or the extent of someone's injuries worsened because there was a delay in an ambulance response.
Earlier this year, the city started to receive extra help from private ambulance companies to respond to calls.
Back on Crawford's walk in Forest Park, she's striving but struggling to think that help is so close, but it could be so far away.
"You never know what might happen over here. There's no ambulance, and you're right at the hospital," Crawford said.