A pilot program in which Albuquerque security officers, not firefighters, respond to “down-and-out” calls has the potential to make the city’s public safety system more efficient and cost effective. It’s important the city monitor results, and if warranted, expand the program.
Albuquerque Fire Rescue responds to about 17,000 calls a year of someone in public view who appears to be unconscious, typically sending a fully-staffed fire engine – lieutenant, driver and two firefighters – at $94 per half hour, with an ambulance also likely coming.
The problem is a full-fledged first-responder response is usually unnecessary, tying up critical resources that could be headed to structure fires and cardiac arrests.
City officials say fewer than 1% of the down-and-out calls require medical intervention, and most of the time the fire truck is canceled or the crew arrives and the person can’t be found or refuses treatment. Those “ghost calls” cost city taxpayers $1 million from August 2018 through July 2019.
Worse, concerned citizens making reports in the past have been asked by authorities to approach the unconscious person to check on them. That’s not only impractical, it’s dangerous. First responders often ask the public to be their eyes and ears, but asking them to perform triage is irresponsible.
The pilot program, which has no costs to the city because it uses existing staff and equipment, is showing promise.