The excessive heat on Tisha B’Av Tuesday dropped a political intern to the pavement in Williamsburg, hijacking a press conference by mayoral hopeful Christine Quinn, igniting a debate over New York City’s emergency preparedness, and bringing kudos to Hatzalah for its rapid response.
City Council Speaker Quinn waited 30 minutes for an ambulance to help an assistant to Councilwoman Diana Reyna. The 17-year-old intern collapsed and later fainted even though she was being tended to by a member of Quinn’s security detail who is also a certified emergency medical technician.
When an ambulance did not arrive despite Quinn’s calls to Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, Hatzalah was called and promptly responded. They took the woman to Woodhull Medical Center in Bushwick.
“Nobody beats Hatzalah,” Rayna told the Hatzalah volunteers. “Hatzalah is always there when we need them.”
An email from Quinn to Hamodia thanked the volunteers. “The City is indebted to them for everything that they do every day to help New Yorkers in need of emergency medical attention.”
Comptroller John C. Liu also weighed in, praising Hatzalah. “Many thanks to the Hatzalah volunteers who stepped forward at a moment’s notice, even on their fasting day, when the emergency response system failed and they were most needed. New Yorkers are fortunate that these selfless emergency responders are willing to put it all on the line in order to ensure the health and well-being of those in need. We all owe you a debt of gratitude. A hearty Yasher Koach to you, Hatzalah.”
Brooklyn Democratic Councilman David Greenfield, an Orthodox Jew, said that Hatzalah’s quick appearance “is even more impressive considering that it occurred on Tisha B’Av, when its volunteers are in the middle of fasting. This incident reinforced what we already knew — our community is extremely fortunate to have capable and dedicated volunteers looking out for us around the clock.”
Quinn had been holding a press conference in the near triple digit temperatures in front of P.S. 132 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in support of a trash dumping site on the Upper East Side — the East 91st Street Marine Transfer Station.
Since the intern was conscious and breathing and being tended to by an EMT, the city did not consider it a priority call, FDNY said.
“Every call for medical assistance is important and ambulance dispatching is prioritized so life-threatening calls — for a choking child, cardiac arrest or chest pains — take precedence over non-life-threatening injuries—when the patient is breathing, alert or communicating,” FDNY said in a statement seeking to quell public concern heightened by significant media attention to the incident.
“That was the case here. In addition, the patient was being treated by a police officer, who is an EMT so care was being administered from the moment the incident occurred.”
Rabbi Elozer Kanner, one of the coordinators of the local Chevra Hatzalah of the Rockaways and Nassau County, said that the ambulance that answered the call was “not my branch,” but all branches of “Hatzalah are always happy to help anyone in need. The fact that resources sometimes are stretched thin and there is not a quick response can happen to any ambulance core.
“There was an EMT treating her and I’m sure he did whatever was appropriate.”
Kanner added that it sometimes happens that all ambulances are on calls. “It can happen to anybody; I would not criticize anybody. It is hot weather, they are stretched to capacity on other calls. It was fortunate that Hatzalah could come. Having been in those shoes, I can understand being stretched to the limit and it can happen to any agency.”
News sources indicated that there were 15 concurrent calls in that area and that 911 received about 4,000 calls due to the heat, more than the usual 3,200.
Meanwhile, following the state’s recent closing of the emergency room at Long Island College Hospital in Downtown Brooklyn, Brooklyn ERs were overwhelmed, and ambulances were diverted from Brooklyn Hospital Center, creating backups at most Brooklyn facilities.
“It’s a mess,” a paramedic bringing a patient to New York Methodist Hospital in Park Slope told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
Ambulances linked up along Seventh Avenue outside Methodist “since the ambulance deck cannot always accommodate all of them,” Methodist spokesperson Lyn Hill told the Eagle.
“Of course, it’s dangerous,” EMT Herby Dossous said. “As it is, we’re overworked. You close two ERs and it’s dangerous.”
Regarding the problem at her rally in Williamsburg, Quinn asked: “[How long would it take] an ambulance to get anywhere else where there aren’t television [cameras] and there aren’t two elected officials?”