Community: Leave our ambulances alone

CB8 committee now wants to ensure these emergency vehicles stay

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Community Board 8’s public safety committee wants to keep its ambulances, pushing back on a city plan to remove some from service in this part of the Bronx by October.

The New York Fire Department has been reworking its emergency medical services response system, turning ambulances currently stationed at fixed locations into “dynamic” units that can be deployed where needed most.

That shift will ultimately cost the Northwest Bronx one of only a few advanced life support ambulances that it has relied on for more than a decade. And a union representing many of those affected EMS workers warn the department overhaul could delay response times. It’s something the greater Riverdale community — with all of its elderly care facilities — just can’t afford.

“You can get more productivity out of units, but what’s going to suffer is response times and coverage,” union vice president Anthony Almojera said.

FDNY disagrees, but still, even the potential for response delays has put some community members on edge — especially those on CB8 public safety committee. Chairman Ed Green implored his committee last week to ask city fire officials to maintain a stationed unit near West 230th Street and Broadway.

“We have 15 nursing homes in this area,” Green said. “I’m skeptical about removing one of these emergency service units, to say the least.”

As part of the city’s yearly budgeting process, community boards are tasked with assessing the needs of their neighborhoods and recommending projects they believe would improve the quality of life within their communities. The public safety committee wants the community board to request funding for a replacement unit currently being prepared for the next fiscal year.

“In essence,” Green said, “it’s a statement stating … on the record that we want this service.”

The ambulance overhaul was originally planned to take effect in early April. That was until a last-minute decision by FDNY postponed the rollout to the fall. Fire department spokesman Frank Dwyer told The Riverdale Press the plans were delayed to give city officials more time to adjust schedules for its emergency responders, which was required as part of an existing contract negotiated with the EMS unions.

Even with the delay, Green still has his concerns.

“So even though this is going to remain in place — this unit — until October,” he said, “I’d still like to keep this on the budget request list because, according to (FDNY), I am anticipating that they are going to remove it.

“It was something that had to be done, because if time goes by and 2024 arrives — and we find we’re in desperate need of an ambulance unit that was taken away from us — the request is going to be in there.”

While he applauds CB8’s public safety committee jumping to defend the ongoing presence of these ambulances, Almojera still bemoans how easy it is to overlook the need for continued — and expanded — EMS services.

“It’s good that they’re involved, that somebody’s taking notice,” he said. But “if they shut down the firehouse in Riverdale, everybody would be up in arms.”

“That’s a highly political area, so I know they have pull,” Almojera added. “If they can get it to stay, then by all means. But I would want them to hopefully insist on a municipal unit,” as opposed to a private unit run by a hospital.

How much sway the community board ultimately has is debatable, since its role inside city government is purely advisory. Even the budget requests are only recommendations, ultimately up to the city council and the mayor.

When it comes to EMS-related requests, the city has given less than a firm answer in years past.

In 2021, for example, at least 25 community boards across the city requested more funding for ambulance services. In nearly all of the replies, however, the city wrote back saying approval of such requests were contingent upon either private funding, or what is specifically  budgeted through their local electeds.

Yet, ambulances weren’t the only thing on the minds of public safety committee members. The group also announced it would push for other improvements like four new police surveillance cameras installed on the corners of West 231st Street and Kingsbridge Avenue, West 234th Street and Bailey Avenue, West 260th Street and Riverdale Avenue, and University and Reservoir avenues. 

The committee will also ask for several streetlights to be installed along parts of the Jerome Park Reservoir to help prevent nighttime crime in the Kingsbridge Heights and Van Cortlandt Village neighborhoods.

As for the ambulance situation, Almojera said his union will keep fighting.

“We’re going to go through this all again in October,” he said, “unless some other deal is worked out.”