Cleveland ambulances continue to break down, but help is on the way

Published: Dec. 8, 2021 at 7:46 PM EST
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - You depend on ambulances when your life is on the line.

But for years ambulances in Cleveland have been breaking down, sometimes while responding to your emergency calls.

There is some good news. Fifteen new ambulances are on the way to the city.

But 19 Investigates found there’s one big snag-- they won’t be here anytime soon, due to supply chain issues.

“It’s embarrassing as an EMS provider to show up in somebody’s time of need and have the ambulance break down,” said Cleveland EMS paramedic Timothy Sommerfelt.

He said it’s their job to be there for you.

But they’re facing more than a few challenges on the ride over.

“Every single one of our 13 spare ambulances has 250,000 miles, most of them have over 300,000 miles and they’re not reliable,” Sommerfelt said.

Issues with ambulances on top of staffing challenges sometimes lead people to try to find alternatives, including police.

19 Investigates got a hold of police body camera video of the 4th District detective unit recently responding to a domestic violence call on the east side of Cleveland.

An officer was assaulted as he tried to cuff the suspect.

He was bitten on the arm.

Police called for EMS, but in their report, noted they “were advised that they had no units to send at this time.”

Sommerfelt told 19 Investigates in cases like this, it’s important to keep in mind that the sickest people get ambulances first.

“EMS is here. We prioritize our calls based on acuity level. If you have an emergency EMS is going to be there to help you in your time of need,” he said.

And now help for paramedics is on the way.

Cleveland City Council just approved $26 million in Covid relief funds for public safety.

Nearly $5 million of that is going to 15 new ambulances for Cleveland EMS.

19 Investigates found 46 percent of Cleveland EMS’s vehicles are in poor or fair condition.

But it will take time to get new ones.

“Unfortunately you can’t just go to Target and buy an ambulance off the shelf, it’s not that simple,” he said.

Sommerfelt is also secretary of the EMS union, Cleveland Association of Rescue Employees, or CARE Local 1975.

He said once the orders are placed for new ambulances, it could take one to two years to see them on the streets.

That’s because a shortage of computer chips has automakers limiting production.

“Which is why it’s important that we start it now and we execute it in an as streamlined process as possible,” Sommerfelt said.

Until then, you may see more tow trucks carrying away ambulances.

Even if it takes awhile, Sommerfelt is grateful new ambulances are on the way.

“City council really stepped up to make this investment, not just in EMS but in the entire community,” he said.

He said they’ll continue to provide you quality care.

And there’s nothing he’d rather be doing.

“I consider it a privilege to be able to have such a fulfilling job in the city where I grew up, where I’m literally working with my family and my friends and my neighbors,” Sommerfelt said.

We found towing ambulances costs the city and you, the taxpayer, a lot of money.

Records show the city spent nearly $23,000 towing ambulances over the last two years.

We did learn four additional ambulances are on the way and will be here sooner.

Two of them are under construction right now.

So between 2024 and 2025, Sommerfelt said Cleveland EMS should get 19 new ambulances.

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