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A Flawed Response

After the death of an 11-year-old boy, is Albany doing all it can to prevent another EMS tragedy?

‘It is a sad reality that sometimes when you dial 911, there is nothing left to come,” said Dr. Michael Dailey, Albany Fire Department’s medical director. “But we have to plan and develop contingencies so that we can make sure that it is as rare as possible.”

Dailey was put in charge of the task force appointed by Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings to investigate the reason why it took Mohawk Ambulance 25 minutes to deliver an ambulance on May 19 to McCormack Road in Albany, the scene of an accident that took the life of 11-year-old Benjamin Cocco.

Dailey said that the task force looked at all the elements of dispatch pertaining the McCormack Road call, “to start to understand how we can make sure, with a good expression of certainty, that this won’t happen again.”

This task force released its final report last month on what it referred to, incorrectly, as the McCormack Road Response for May 17, blaming the delay on human error on the part of the Mohawk dispatcher. The report states that the dispatcher has since been retrained and that the company is taking steps to try to prevent future complications.

(A copy of the final report is available online at

Mohawk, a regional private ambulance provider, claimed that it answered 15,572 calls in the city of Albany last year and close to 30,000 around the region, with an average response time of 6 minutes, 22 seconds for Priority 1 calls. The national average, the company stated, is less than 8 minutes, 59 seconds.

Mohawk signed a contract with the city in 2007 to provide year-round ambulance service for “all calls assigned to it by the city.” The contract states that the company will answer 90 percent of all the higher priority calls within less than 8 minutes.

As Albany 3rd Ward Councilman and mayoral candidate Corey Ellis pointed out, the company, which is owned by the McPartlon family of Schenectady, is a generous contributor to political campaigns. Since 2006, Mohawk, along with members of the McPartlon family, has donated at least $35,165 to local and statewide campaigns. Jennings has received at least $9,000 of this money, either donated to his Jennings 2009 (Primary Election Committee) or to his PAC, Capital City Committee.

In the days after Cocco’s death, memos from inside the city fire department were leaked to the press. According to reports from the Times Union and CBS6, there were at least three incidents in 2008 in which Mohawk failed to deliver an ambulance to the scene of a medical emergency within an appropriate amount of time. The longest response time was 40 minutes, followed by 30 and 27 minutes.

Along with contracting ambulance services with the city, Mohawk also provides institution-to-institution transport, such as transferring hospital patients or residents of nursing homes. A memo written by AFD Lt. Kim Ciprioni to a deputy chief Frank Nerney warned that Mohawk appeared to be spreading its fleet too thin due to these transfers, the TU reported. On some days, only half of the ambulances in Albany were available to answer emergency calls.

Tom Nardacci, speaking on behalf of Mohawk, maintained that the leaked memos contained factual errors; however, he didn’t elaborate on the nature of these errors or whether or not the reports of lengthy response times were inaccurate.

According to Nardacci, there were five ambulances in Albany at the time of the Cocco accident: Three were engaged in 911 calls and two were engaged in transports. A sixth ambulance was directed from Troy after the McCormack Road 911 call.

Ellis asked why the report made no mention of the previous complaints by the fire department. According to Dailey, the task force briefly “touched on” the previous incidents of delayed response, but instead chose to focus on the events surrounding the May 19 response, to focus their efforts to correct systemic issues. He pointed out that the city had already investigated the previous delays.

During the task force meetings, Mohawk was represented by its vice president of operations, Rich Brandt. Dailey called Brandt’s interactions with the task force “frank.”

“We were very impressed with the amount of investment that he was immediately taking to prevent things that he saw were potential problems,” Dailey said, such as the need for communication-device upgrades, among others.

Another recommendation made by Brandt, and adopted by the task force, is to increase staffing numbers for evening and nighttime shifts. When Metroland asked Nardacci whether this recommendation meant that Mohawk recognized that its staffing numbers prior to the May 19 incident were insufficient, he had no comment.

Dailey said that, according to the task force’s research, Mohawk, “is doing it right 94 percent of the time.”

Another question Ellis posed is why the task force didn’t even consider “the potential of having a city-run ambulance service. You would think that you would look at that as an option, especially with the number of previous complaints about Mohawk. And it has the possibility to make the city money.”

This January, Watervliet began ambulance transport alongside the first-response services provided by its fire department. Troy has been running its own ambulance service for years. Utica has been running municipal ambulances since 2005. Utica Mayor David R. Roefaro announced with his 2009-2010 budget that the service netted the city more than $1.2 million in revenue in 2008.

Colonie’s municipal ambulance service, said Dailey, is “spectacular. It has some of the best statistics in the state with things such as cardiac-arrest survival.”

“I would welcome a chance to discuss a new approach with the councilman,” he continued, in response to Ellis’ query.

“This administration,” Ellis said, “was warned previously that there were issues and they did nothing about it. They had the warning signs. And now because of this unfortunate incident they say, ‘Now we’re going to do something about it.’ This administration is never proactive, always reactive. They bring an ad-hoc committee together of people who support the mayor, who are friends of the mayor, who contribute to him, and then they said, ‘OK, we fixed it.’ I don’t think that is the way we should handle this. Emergency service is too critical to the city.”

—Chet Hardin

What a Week


Photo: Matthew Connolly

A Little Bit of Paint

Troy residents come together on project to care for their alley

Have you ever tried to organize 10 people to come paint your house at 9 o’clock on a Saturday morning? How about 80? Community organizers in Troy are doing just that.

“We wanted neighborhood groups to do a project they could be proud of,” said Sid Fleisher, one of the primary organizers of Troy’s Alley Action Project, which works toward “creative solutions to ongoing neglect” by helping residents reinvest in a communal space.

On July 25, the alley project brought community members out to complete work on a mural on the backside of the Troy Area United Ministries building. While the mural is not visible from the street, it is visible to residents of Third and Second streets who live off of the Franklin Street alley.

The current project has a long history that began with Jim Bevevino, a retired Watervliet Arsenal employee who patrolled the Franklin Street alley for 30 years with a golf club over his shoulder, greeting neighbors and keeping watch. After Bevevino died four years ago, Fleisher came up with an idea to keep alive the spirit of Bevevino’s civic activism.

Fleisher introduced his plan to a community-design course he taught at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 2005 and 2006. It had to “make a big impact quickly” and “get a lot of people involved,” he told his students. What emerged was the Alley Improvement Project, a comprehensive guide to remodeling local alleyways, dedicated to the memory of Bevevino.

The city of Troy has 43 miles of alleyway, much of which is in various states of disrepair. What was once a vibrant meeting place for neighbors now hosts overgrown weeds and loose trash, Fleisher claimed. Disrepair also presents a serious problem for medical and emergency personnel, who use the alleys as one of the main sources of entry into buildings. Clutter can obstruct vehicles from reaching the interior of the alley. Most buildings lack alley-side identification numbers, forcing first responders to actually count the number of buildings from the street, said Dave Paul, president of the Troy Uniformed Firefighters Association.

Fleisher’s community-design course, co-taught with architect and muralist Barbara Nelson, produced a 36-page booklet giving tips on garbage management, parking, fencing and landscaping.

“It’s a recipe book,” Fleisher said. The class also produced a series of murals throughout downtown Troy, which include the faces of Charlie Chaplin and Marilyn Monroe.

When the Alley Improvement Project ended in 2006, however, Fleisher wasn’t satisfied.

“Sid came to me and said, ‘We can take it further,’ ” said Pleasant DeSpain, an organizer who became involved with the project through Fleisher. They also share an alley.

The group applied for funding through the Rubin Foundation and were rewarded a $12,000 grant to turn the Franklin Street alley into a demonstration model. The alley was cleaned up, flowers were planted and residents were mobilized to paint the mural that would adorn the TAUM building.

“We delivered a letter by hand to everyone who lived on the alley,” said DeSpain. The letter detailed the group’s plan and invited residents to participate. Initial concerns gave way to enthusiasm, finding more residents involved in the mural’s design, in particular young people.

In a series of workshops led by Nelson and local artist Armando Soto, children as young as 4 and 5 were asked to brainstorm images they associated with words like “love” and “family.” The resulting collage was projected onto a 50-ft-by-18-ft wall for the paint-by-numbers event on the last Saturday in July.

Neighbors even incorporated DeSpain’s building, complete with his wife’s flower garden, into the mural, something he said he takes great pride in.

“This is just beginning the foundation,” said DeSpain. The Alley Action Project expects that other community groups will pick up where they left off. They are also planning a number of workshops to spread the word. However, Fleisher and DeSpain were quick to point out that the actual painting part of the project doesn’t cost $12,000. A large portion of the grant money is going toward work on a Web site to document and promote this project and other projects they hope to inspire.

Fleisher said that he sees value just in neighbors coming together. “People get to know each other. There’s an intensity that people have about it, trying to paint in the lines,” said Fleisher, gesturing at the mural. “Someone thought enough to do this.”

—Matthew Connolly

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