Thursday, June 24, 2004

For whom the ambulance siren blares

Your voice: Richard Harsham

Ask not for whom the ambulance siren wails as it approaches and then recedes. It announces an emergency run to an area hospital - a life-saving dash in a city that the Enquirer's alarming reports have revealed has too few ambulances for too many people in need.

The siren is a reminder that the difference between a life lost or a life saved often amounts to a few precious minutes, between an ambulance arriving in time or arriving too late.

Now the wail of the city's ambulance sirens takes on a new urgency. "Shameful" is not too strong a word to apply when considering that in nearby cities, the ambulance-per-resident ratio puts ours to shame.

As the Enquirer revealed, Columbus has one ambulance for every 20,900 residents; Lexington has one ambulance for every 28,945 residents; Dayton has one ambulance for every 23,739 residence.

Here in Cincinnati, there is but one ambulance for every 31,128 residents, a total of 10 ambulances.

The irony is that in this "most livable" city of more than 311,000 people, too few ambulances and too few paramedics necessitate 24-hour work shifts. Who would knowingly board a bus or take a commercial flight staffed by someone at the controls who'd not slept in more than 24 hours? And yet, that is the status quo for our city's rescue squads. Theirs is an unheralded valor.

The Enquirer quoted Assistant Fire Chief Denny Clark, who supervises our emergency services: "The sad part is that when something's been broken for so long, it becomes policy. It becomes expected."

Sadder still, in a city with two brand-spanking-new sports stadiums, funding for more ambulances and crews is not even on the back burner.

In these times of terrorist threats and Homeland Security alerts, leaving what's stretched to the breaking point in place as "policy" is to invite disaster and imperil our "most livable" status.


Richard Harsham, a Cincinnati-based free-lance writer, accompanied his late mother on eight city life squad runs last year to Good Samaritan Hospital.

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