Cleveland EMS ambulances called a 'catastrophic failure'
The union representing dispatchers, EMTs and paramedics describes the fleet of Cleveland EMS ambulances as a "catastrophic failure."
"They're breaking down. Our fleet is done. They're crippled," said Daniel Nemeth, president of the Cleveland Association Rescue Employees.
Nemeth says all too often the city has fewer than the desired 18 functioning ambulances on the streets.
Nemeth said one day last week, six units -- or one-third of the city's fleet -- was in the shop for repairs and unable to transport critically injured patients.
"That is totally unacceptable for a city this size," said Cleveland City Councilman Mike Polensek. "You have to have a minimum of 18 units working the city."
Channel 3 News Investigator Tom Meyer obtained a number of computer- aided dispatch messages showing the city was forced to use city SUVs because ambulances were broken down and out of service.
The SUVs are used as first responders and do not transport injured victims to the hospital. They must wait in hope that an ambulance will arrive.
"This is not drama. These are lives. They [the city] are putting a price on the citizens of Cleveland," Nemeth said.
Nemeth said the same rubber gloves that paramedics wear to treat patients have also been used to hold a hydraulic hose together on one of the city's ambulances.
In addition, he discovered one patient was transported in the back of one ambulance that had a cracked body frame.
"They're putting Band-Aids on these amputated items and that's not a fix. It's getting to the point that they are sending vehicles out that are unsafe," said Nemeth.
The union had a study performed to determine how Cleveland EMS ambulances stack up against other ambulances in eight cities of similar or larger size.
The study found that the average ambulance spends 4.8 years or 163,833 miles in front-line 911 service. In Cleveland, two front-line ambulances are 9 years old. At least five front-line ambulances have more than 240,000 miles, which is about the equivalent of circling the world 10 times.
Channel 3 news reached out to acting EMS commissioner Nicole Carlton for comment, but she said she was unavailable.
The assistant director of Public Safety, Ed Eckart, agreed to talk. He acknowledged that the city has, on recent occasions, had fewer than a full fleet of EMS ambulances available due to break downs of several aging units.
As a result, SUVs have been used to carry EMTs to scenes.
Eckart said he was unaware of the union's complaints, but he said citizens are being treated properly.
"We're satisfied that the current condition of the fleet can meet the needs and expectations of the community," he said. "In a perfect world, absolutely, you'd like to have all brand new stuff."
He said the city received two new ambulances in June and, over the Fourth of July holiday weekend, 19 EMS ambulances were in service. Normally, the city has 18 ambulances in service.
In addition, four new ambulances are scheduled to hit city streets by year's end, Eckart said.
Watch WKYC investigative report on the following link: