Jose Galvan slipped and fell in a downtown alley on Jan. 30, breaking his leg in three places.
“I hear the cracking …I knew right away that it was broken," he said.
A passerby found Galvan in the street and called 911. But instead of an ambulance, it was a pumper truck and several firefighters that arrived on the scene.
Galvan has nothing but praise for the firefighters who helped him. But they don’t have the same training as paramedics and aren’t allowed to take patients to hospital.
With the fire truck unable to transport him, Galvan was forced to wait for almost an hour — cold and in pain — for an ambulance to arrive.
Documents obtained by CBC of Galvan’s 911 call and ambulance dispatch records show that after the initial call at 8:07 a.m., three different ambulances tried to respond. They were dispatched at 8:10, 8:19 and 8:27, but each was diverted to another call before getting to Galvan.
Galvan said he expects better service for a city of Toronto's size.
“I don’t think, regardless of the complexity of the injury, an hour or half an hour is a normal wait for a city," said Galvan. "A first-world city with a high quality of life such as Toronto. It just doesn’t make any sense in my head.”
The incident happened a month after an 87-year-old Toronto woman died while waiting more than three hours for an ambulance. A CBC News investigation into that incident revealed the EMS dispatcher in that case cited “limited resources” as the reason for the delay.
Galvan overheard something similar from his medics discussing what had taken them so long to arrive.
“They [said] they didn’t have enough resources or something," he told CBC News.
Ontario's Ministry of Health and Long Term care requires all EMS service providers to get to the most urgent calls within nine minutes.
In 1996, Toronto EMS hit that mark 84 per cent of the time. In 2011, the reached that target 63 per cent of the time.
In 2011, only seven per per cent of the calls firefighters answered in Toronto were for fires, including vehicle fires. About 60 per cent of the calls firefighters answered were for medical emergencies.
'We need to fix the system,' councillor says
Toronto Coun. Jaye Robinson oversees the community development and recreation committee, which is considering how to get more resources to EMS.
"That's simply unacceptable, that someone had to endure that," said Robinson of Galvan's ordeal. "We need to fix the system and we need to do it now."
“Fires are down and EMS — the services provided by EMS and getting people to the hospital in a timely fashion — that need is there and it's on the rise," she said.
Toronto has commissioned a study of resources and staffing at both Toronto fire department and EMS. The report is expected to come later this spring.
Ed Kennedy, president of the Toronto Professional Fire Fighters’ Association, says he could envision a change in which fire and EMS work together more closely, but says any solution should not involve taking resources from fire and putting them into EMS.
“You can't have fewer firefighters," he said. "If you have a fire and we respond a lot slower, you're actually going to have more property loss, more injuries or more deaths with the fires.”
The City of Winnipeg merged its fire and EMS services back in 2007 and now boasts some of the fastest response times in the country. Paramedics ride with firefighters and do an initial patient assessment when they arrive at the scene. If a patient needs more advanced care or has to go to the hosptial, an ambulace is called.
Two investigations into the 87-year-old woman's death — one from EMS and another from Ontario's health ministry — are expected in the coming weeks.