Tempers flared during a recent City Council conversation about emergency response times in Dunwoody as officials say DeKalb County still doesn’t meet national and local standards.
At the council’s Feb. 15 retreat, City Manager Eric Linton showed that American Medical Response ambulance times in Sandy Springs and Johns Creek averaged at 8 minutes and 20 seconds. In DeKalb County, AMR’s average response time is 9 minutes and 39 seconds, while in Dunwoody that average is 10 minutes and two seconds.
Fire response times in Sandy Springs and Johns Creek are 4 minutes and 48 seconds and 5 minutes and 13 seconds, respectively. Fire response times in DeKalb average at 7 minutes and 37 seconds and in Dunwoody the average is 7 minutes and 9 seconds.
Councilmember Terry Nall said his research showed a national standard response time for fire and ambulances is 4 minutes and 40 seconds.
“We’re not achieving that in any categories,” Nall said.
But Mayor Denis Shortal said that time can’t be realistically used in Dunwoody because of its heavy traffic compared to rural cities with little or no traffic.
Nall explained he was talking about a standard determined by a professional organization, not an average of all U.S. cities and their response times in each city.
“The national standard is the national standard,” Nall told him. “We’re looking for a benchmark. Sandy Springs is able to achieve it. Johns Creek is able to achieve it.” And these cities deal with the same kind of traffic as Dunwoody, Nall said.
“Don’t tell me about a national average when in my hometown [in Missouri] the roads are clear,” he said. “To me, I don’t get complaints about ambulance or fire service at all, maybe once over the years.”
Nall responded angrily, raising his voice and pounding the table.
“We need to take some steps!” he told Shortal. “The numbers are right here.”
Shortal did not respond to Nall’s outburst that came at the tail end of the nine-hour meeting. Rather, consensus was reached for the city manager to continue talks with AMR and DeKalb County to encourage quicker response times.
A Dunwoody Police officer at the retreat also chimed in on slow AMR response times, saying the police are always first to respond to an emergency call and AMR is always “dead last.”
“We’re sitting all the time waiting for them,” he said.
The issue of ambulance and fire response times dates back to at least 2016, when the City Council questioned AMR’s regional director specifically in the case of a 30-minute response time to a Dunwoody child suffering from a seizure.
At that time, the council was told DeKalb Fire contracted with AMR in 2013 to provide ambulance service. AMR promised their average response times would be 8 minutes, 59 seconds or less on 90 percent of their calls. AMR has failed to meet those times, however.
DeKalb County did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
City Manager Eric Linton noted at the retreat that AMR’s contract with DeKalb County ends this year and there is the possibility there may be a new ambulance provider in the near future that Dunwoody can deal with on response times.