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ST. LOUIS — The St. Louis Fire Department said its EMS crews are getting more calls now more than ever because of COVID-19. The department said you will get help — but the question is “when?”

St. Louis Chief Dennis Jenkerson said the department’s dispatchers prioritize those calls based on how people answer questions over the phone. From there, wait times for an ambulance can vary from minutes to hours.

“We went from pre-Christmas averaging to about 5 to 10 calls a day. On the high end, maybe 15.  We’re looking at 50 to 60 calls per day now,” said Jenkerson.

He said transporting COVID-19 patients has not only impacted wait times but also turn-around times for those units.

“If they have Covid, that ambulance is contaminated. So, our turnaround time has gone through the roof,” Jenkerson said.

He said his department is also dealing with staff shortages. 

“We need more dispatchers,” Jenkerson said. “We’re trying to get those hired. On the EMS side, we’re down about 20 medics. We need more medics.”

He says all this puts more stress on the staff who do show up.

“We are much more busier answering questions answering 911 calls, and we’re working so hard. A lot of people are working overtime trying to take care of the demand,” said dispatcher Angela Williams.

Jenkerson said they still will help with any emergency but wants people to know their resources are stretched thin. 

“Dealing with emergencies in the city, that doesn’t stress us,” Jenkerson said. “But everything that we’re trying to do to make sure we have the ability to deal with that puts a considerable amount of stress in all of our people.”