Memphis emergency crews ‘running on fumes,’ fire chief says; ambulances overwhelmed


MEMPHIS, Tenn. – You may want to think twice before calling for an ambulance.  

In the first two weeks of August, the Memphis Fire Department said it has been overwhelmed by a call volume 23 percent higher than this time last year. The Memphis dispatch center is taking an average of 469 calls a day.

Chief Gina Sweat is urging people not to call for ambulances unless it’s a life-threatening emergency. 

“There’s times when you may call for an ambulance and we may not have one available,” said Sweat. “People that go to the emergency rooms to get tested for COVID, you’re not serving the citizens well because you’re taking up available medical personnel to do a test that can be served at other locations.”

Sweat said the department is “running on fumes.”

The ambulance shortage appears to be a problem that starts at area hospitals.  With COVID patients taking up bed space, ambulances are having to wait longer than usual to offload their patients.  

“Ambulances are stuck there for extended period, six or eight hours, and while the ambulances are sitting there at the hospital for six or eight hours that reduces the number of ambulances we have in the street to respond to emergency calls,” said Joe Norman, vice president of the Memphis Fire Fighters Association.  

Sweat said if you do call for ambulance don’t be surprised if a fire truck shows up instead.  

“That can get there still within a couple of minutes and usually have a paramedic on board and they can still initiate the advanced life support skills until the ambulance gets there,” said Norman. 

Should you take an ambulance to the hospital, the average wait time to be offloaded is 90 minutes, up from one hour a year ago.  

“If you ride an ambulance to the hospital, you’re not gonna get seen any faster in that emergency department. You don’t get any privilege. You will be triaged and you will be placed in the waiting room,” said Sweat.  

Sweat said August is shaping up to be the busiest recorded month in MFD’s 175-year history  

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