Ambulance Takes More Than 15 Minutes To Reach House Fire

Denver Health Says Policy Not To Dispatch Ambulance To Fires

While their home was burning, a mother and her two children laid on their lawn, waiting for help to arrive.

Seven minutes after learning of the fire, one paramedic arrived, but he was not in an ambulance. He's a supervisor with Denver Health, a trained paramedic.

It's not until about 17 minutes after the first call came in that an ambulance showed up to the house fire at 455 South Elliot Street. 7NEWS started asking questions to find out what went wrong.

"Yeah, it took the ambulance too long to get there," said Scott Bookman Thursday, chief paramedic at Denver Health. "Our goal is to get a paramedic to the scene but not necessarily commit an ambulance to it in case there is not a patient,"

7NEWS reporter Dayle Cedars listened to dispatch and radio transmissions from the Denver Fire Department and Denver Health paramedics and learned emergency personnel knew shortly after the first 911 call that people were trapped in the burning house.

But documents showed the first ambulance was not dispatched to the house until 4:14 a.m, eight minutes after the call was received.

"Three parties still on the lawn, one adult, one pediatric, one teenager; all being worked by Denver Fire, no ambulances yet," said an unknown fire fighter on emergency recordings.

Cedars asked Bookman if the firefighters should have been concerned that an ambulance was not on scene almost 17 minutes after the initial call.

"We look at every call that we run and we always look for ways to improve it and in this case it looks like we've got room for improvement," said Bookman.

Sources told 7NEWS national standards state an ambulance should respond to every house fire. Cedars checked with South Metro Fire and West Metro Fire and learned both send an ambulance to every house fire, sometimes two ambulances.

"We are very confident that when you look at the outcomes, which are based not on the arrival of ALS (Advance Life Support) or on the arrival of transport, but on the initial BLS (Basic Life Support) care that is on scene," said Bookman.

When asked why then, if the paramedic was on scene at seven minutes, it took another 10 minutes for the ambulance to get there.

"We're still looking into that right now. If we decide that we need to make a change, then obviously, anytime you're making a change you're taking resources from one area to another we want to make sure that we're providing the right care for everybody," Bookman said.

Denver firefighters provide basic life support, but firefighters who asked to remain anonymous said they do not have the proper training to do what is needed by paramedics.

"Paramedics have a lot more training than EMTs," said one firefighter.

Relatives of the family whose house burned down said they can’t help wonder if things would have been different if an ambulance arrived sooner. The 7-year-old boy and 15-year-old girl remain in intensive care at Children's Hospital and the mother remains in critical condition at University Of Colorado hospital.

"My family had to be revived. It was a serious situation,” said relative Colleen Alvarado. "Who's to say where their recovery would be right now?”

She is stunned to hear Denver Health's dispatch policy doesn't automatically require an ambulance be sent on a fire call.

"I'm shocked. Absolutely shocked,” Alvarado said after hearing that Denver Health's dispatch policy doesn't automatically require an ambulance be sent on a fire call.

Alvarado wants to make it clear, she appreciates all of the work from the firefighters to save her family, but she thinks the procedures need to be questioned and changed.

"If it's going to cause an additional 15 minutes for a family to receive medical attention to be able to transported to the proper place, then why wouldn't you? To me it's a no brainer," she said.

Alvarado said the 15-year-old appears to be progressing fastest, able now to communicate by pointing at a leter board in order to spell names and other words.

But, Alvarado said that girl also had trouble vomiting Thursday due to a complication with her feeding tube.

Denver Health admitted that ambulances did not arrive within its desired response time of eight minutes and 59 seconds, and Bookman said they were looking into the situation.

The family did not have homeowner's insurance and the fire gutted the home. A fund has been established at all Wells Fargo Banks under the "Elliot Street house fire" fund.

Firefighters said that the cause of the accidental fire was an unattended candle.

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