North Haven resident’s death exposes need for emergency service reform

North Haven resident’s death exposes need for emergency service reform


Edward Wenzel

At the most recent Board of Finance meeting, Kara Keating shared a heart-breaking story. She said, on Aug. 3, her son, Edward Wenzel Jr., returned from a friend’s house to his Potter Road home and found his father, Edward Wenzel, lying on the floor having suffered a heart attack. The son called 911 and attempted to perform CPR, but his father could not be saved.

The North Haven fire department was unable to send a paramedic because all personnel were at a house fire on Maple Avenue at the time, so American Medical Response was the first to arrive on scene.

“All fire department resources were tied up at the fire. Four other incidents occurred that we couldn’t respond to,” North Haven Fire Chief Paul Januszewski said. “We relied on AMR to respond to medical incidents that day. That’s how it’s supposed to be set up.”

Chuck Babson, regional director of AMR New Haven, said “Our records show that from the time AMR received the call to Potter Road to the time of arrival on the scene was 7 minutes, 32 seconds. During this time, AMR was on the phone with the 911 caller, talking him through CPR. And we remained on the line until help arrived.”

Babson pointed out that AMR also was responding to fire emergencies that day. “In addition to the fire, to which AMR sent three ambulances and one fly car, from 10:10 a.m. to the time of the Potter Road call at 12:34 p.m., AMR was responding to six additional calls.”

Keating concedes that she doesn’t know if Wenzel died waiting for help. Still, she encouraged the town to end its relationship with AMR. “They hold the ambulance contract, but when they hold calls it may violate the continuity of care law. If they cannot dispatch an ambulance it should roll over to the next service, such as Nelson Ambulance in North Haven. But they don’t ever call Nelson for back up,” she said.

“I’m trying to educate town residents about how fire and police are under such stress from lack of staff,” Keating said. “Residents don’t understand how the town is run on a first come first served basis, so there may be no more emergency personnel when a house is on fire and 911 calls come in.”

First selectman Mike Freda said the town is attempting to take control of the Primary Service Area contract AMR now holds. “We’re on board to see if we can take the PSA back,” he said. “The fire chief is revising the emergency standards, which determines the response times we want. Our attorneys are also looking to see what the next steps may be.”

Freda said the city of Milford won an appeal and now controls the PSA, which allows it to name its ambulance carrier. “We’re moving forward but don’t know what the outcome will be,” the first selectman said.

“PSAs provide a legal responsibility to transfer patients from municipalities to hospitals,” Januszewski explained. “PSAs were assigned decades ago, ambulance companies grabbed the rights and AMR has held the contract in North Haven. Four years ago a PSA task force was assigned to write new regulations and Milford obtained its PSA. North Haven can consider doing that. The call volume has exceeded our staff so we are unable to respond to all calls in North Haven.”

Keating said, “Our fire chief can only do so much and there has only been one extra fire fighter added to the force since 1972.”

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