TAMPA — Top Tampa leaders are demanding action after the I-Team discovered a local father died after his ambulance broke down and it took nearly an hour to get him to the hospital.
I-team reporter Adam Walser uncovered an ambulance system in crisis and new calls to fix the public safety system.
“Oh my God! He's not breathing,” Amy Bateman said in the frantic 9-1-1 call.
Her husband, 50-year-old Richard Bateman, had just collapsed on his living room floor from a heart attack.
A Tampa Fire Rescue ambulance arrived at his home within minutes, but when paramedics tried to drive the Tampa father to the hospital the engine wouldn't start.
“Rescue 5 is broken down,” a paramedic told the dispatcher, who sent an ambulance from another station.
Richard was pronounced dead shortly after he arrived at the hospital, 49 minutes after the first 9-1-1 call.
The I-Team found that 9-year-old ambulance had 229,000 miles, was three weeks overdue for maintenance, and had been in the shop 16 times in the past two years.
“Life and death depend on it. You can't have them breaking down,” said former Hillsborough County Commissioner Ed Turanchik.
He’s one of four candidates for Tampa mayor now demanding upgrades after the I-Team found the city’s ambulance fleet is the oldest in the region.
“There's no question that we need to upgrade our fleet,” said Tampa City Council member Harry Cohen.
“The process itself if not working. This story indicates that,” said Councilman Mike Suarez.
“No stone should be left unturned to try to save a life,” said Tampa businessman David Straz.
An I-Team investigation found Tampa Fire Rescue ambulances average 9 years old.
St. Petersburg and Pasco County’s rescue fleets are half that age and other departments’ fleets are even newer.
Hillsborough County ambulances average 2.6 years old and the average Pinellas County Fire Rescue ambulance is just 2 years old.
“There's no question that the vehicles have to be in working and operating order. We have to tolerate nothing less. And if it means spending more upgrading our fleet, we're gonna do just that,” said Cohen.
Tampa’s current mayor, Bob Buckhorn, who steps down next spring, and Fire Chief Nick Lo Cicero have declined multiple interview requests.
“That's troubling to me that city officials aren't sitting down with you and talking about this. I don't get that,” said Turanchik.
“You work for the people. You need to talk to the people if they have questions,” said Straz.
Tampa Fire Chief Nick Lo Cicero did send the following statement in response to our interview request:
At the City of Tampa, public safety remains our top priority. Due to an ever-increasing population and a growing number of calls for service (currently 78,000) our fleet is very active.
Yearly we evaluate our safety vehicles to determine the needs of the department while making strategic investments where necessary. Over the last eight years the City has purchased 12 rescue vehicles, built four new fire stations and added 68 more firefighters and rescue personnel to accommodate this growth.
In addition, ISO Mitigation upgraded the City of Tampa’s public protection classification on April 1 to 2/2X, the second-highest rating attainable. Tampa’s previous rating was 3/3X. The classification scale is 1/1X to 9 with 1/1X being the highest and most favorable rating that can be assigned. Having a higher rating could result in a decrease of insurance premiums.
We will continue to evaluate how best to deliver service to the City of Tampa while making maximum use of available resources. In so doing, we remain vigilant in our mission to ensure the safety of our residents.
Richard's wife, Amy Bateman, says she's still waiting for answers from the city.
“Somebody's got to fix this. I don't want someone else to have to go through this. I wouldn't wish that upon anyone,” Amy Bateman said.
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