Ambulance delays at Hartsfield-Jackson prompt moves to improve

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Delays in responses to medical emergencies at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport are prompting airport and Atlanta Fire Rescue officials to work to fix the problems.

The Atlanta airport has multiple fire stations and a centralized command and control center, a division of the Atlanta Fire Rescue department with life support trucks and ambulances, and hundreds of automated external defibrillators throughout the terminals and concourses, first aid and CPR programs, and mobile medic response teams on bikes.

But two of the five ambulances at Hartsfield-Jackson have been out of service to be retrofitted, and supply chain slowdowns amid the pandemic lengthened their time in the shop from 90 days to 180 days, Hartsfield-Jackson general manager Balram Bheodari told the Atlanta city council transportation committee Wednesday.

That led to a recent lengthy delay in responding to an injured passenger in the terminal because two ambulances were already transporting other people and the third was held for “high-priority” emergencies such as heart attacks, he said. An 11Alive news report said the injured passenger waited 95 minutes.

The airport called a contract ambulance, but it was diverted to a higher-priority call. Other jurisdictions had no ambulance available, and “it took an extra long time to get ambulance services to the person,” Bheodari said.

In another incident last fall, an emergency response team traveling to a call for a cardiac arrest in a parking lot got lost in the maze of airport roadways. The patient died, according to 11Alive news.

The airport had five fire stations but closed the one closest to the domestic terminal to make way for construction of five more gates in an expansion of Concourse T. A replacement fire station is under construction.

ExploreAtlanta airport squeezes expansion into limited space

Bheodari said the airport is adding advanced life support training and certification for responders, the fire rescue team has gotten additional training to ensure they’re familiar with the entire campus, and dispatchers are being trained to a higher level. He said the airport is also adding more EMS mobile medic teams.

While the two ambulances remain in the shop, Bheodari said the deputy fire chief at the airport searched for ambulances to rent and plans to soon add one or two more.