In Bronx, ‘Fly Cars’ Aim to Speed Up Emergency Care
By the end of an eight-hour shift in the Bronx, paramedic Barbara Aziz had treated a man who had broken his leg falling from a building, revived another man who stopped breathing after a heroin overdose and cradled a moments-old baby girl born unexpectedly in a public-housing apartment.
Ms. Aziz and her partner had responded to 13 emergency calls—two to three times more than a typical paramedic crew in the Bronx. The reason: She was behind the wheel of a “fly car,” not an ambulance.
Ms. Aziz’s red Ford Explorer is one of 10 specially equipped sport-utility vehicles that rolled out last year in the Bronx as part of a pilot program designed to improved emergency response in the New York City borough with the most medical calls per person in the past year.
The fly cars allow paramedics, the most highly trained first responders in emergency medical services, to respond to priority calls without taking patients to the hospital. That task, which Ms. Aziz estimates can take paramedics away from responding to calls for at least an hour, is handled by ambulances that respond along with the fly cars.
The Fire Department of New York had a record number of medical calls last year. The fly cars are a response to that increase as fire departments nationwide play a bigger role in emergency medical care.
New York City firefighters and emergency medical staff members together responded to 1.44 million medical emergencies last year, up from 1.03 million in 1996, according to department statistics.
The city has added $40 million for more ambulance shifts over the past two years and lowered the average response time for medical calls by 21 seconds since 2015, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio.
The fly car program came out of a steering group that Fire Commissioner Dan Nigro put together to look at innovations in emergency medical services, said Ed Dolan, FDNY’s deputy commissioner for strategy and policy.
Along with the fly cars, the department created a five-ambulance “tactical response group” in the Bronx that can be deployed wherever needed, rather than being assigned to a specific geographic area like other ambulances.
New York is also testing a computerized triage system for 911 dispatchers, to replace a set of flip cards now used to prioritize medical calls. The system, expected to be fully implemented this spring, will allow for better data collection so that the department can determine, for instance, which questions being asked by dispatchers are wasting precious seconds and which are eliciting needed information.
“What we’re finding is that response times have improved more in the Bronx than any other borough,” said Mr. Dolan.
Ms. Aziz, the paramedic who is also a supervisor, said she thinks the tactical response group, more than the fly cars, are responsible for the faster response times. But the fly cars are allowing her and other paramedics to respond to more calls, she said.
During her 13-call shift, she had to help transport patients to the hospital only twice.
“The good thing is, if we’re not needed, we don’t have to hang out there,” she said. “The [ambulance] can take the patient and we can be available for the next call.”