Despite buying new ambulances, Memphis still sees shortage

(WMC-TV) - More than $1 million in taxpayer dollars were spent on new ambulances for the city of Memphis since the beginning of the year. But none of those ambulances are on the streets.

Instead, they are sitting idle while the city suffers an ambulance shortage. Which begs the question: why?

On any given day, the number of medical emergencies in Memphis can outnumber the ambulances available to save your life.

"I don't know if you're aware, but we're going through a budget deduction now," said EMS Deputy Chief Gary Ludwig.

That is what EMS Deputy Chief Gary Ludwig said last October, when the Action News 5 Investigators discovered at least five ambulances sitting idle in a downtown parking lot.

Six months later, the shortage of ambulances is still a problem.

"We do run short on ambulances often times, it doesn't happen every day but sometimes we do have fewer ambulances than needed for some of the calls," said Alvin Benson, Memphis Fire Department.

Since our investigation began last year, the city of Memphis has spent more than $1.2 million on seven new ambulances. But you won't see any extras at the city's 57 fire stations.

Action News 5 learned that only 33 stations have a transport ambulance. That is 33 stations in the entire city of Memphis.

That is same number as last year, despite a 2007 study that recommended Memphis have 40 ambulances.

Ambulances continue to sit idle, like the ones Action News spotted outside the city's apparatus maintenance office.

WMC-TV was told they are on reserve in case an active unit breaks down.

Instead of putting more ambulances in service, the fire department has stocked more of its engine companies with advanced life support equipment.

There are more than 300 certified paramedics on staff, but fire trucks can't transport victims to the hospital which, in some emergencies, makes the difference between life and death.

Director Benson blames an ambulance shortage on callers who abuse the 911 system.

"You'd be surprised at how many calls we get from a hung nail to a toothache," said Benson.

The department is about to implement a new policy.

When the number of available ambulances gets low, that toothache victim will have to wait longer.

"What we will likely do is reserve that ambulance for that life threatening call that is inevitably going to come," he said.

Memphis Fire officials believe changes they have made already will improve response times.

Copyright 2012 WMC-TV. All rights reserved.