82-year-old Bowie man waits 37 minutes for ambulance after heart - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

82-year-old Bowie man waits 37 minutes for ambulance after heart attack

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Barbara (left) and Vail Clemence Barbara (left) and Vail Clemence
BOWIE, Md. -

By the time 82-year-old Vail Clemence of Bowie, Md., got home from his Senior softball league game on July 17, he knew he was having a heart attack. His wife Barbara called 911.

The call was dispatched to the Belair Bowie station a mile away.

But they waited and waited and the ambulance never came.

"It was terrible," says Barbara Clemence. "We didn't know why they weren't here. We kept expecting them every minute."

An ambulance finally arrived 37 minutes after Barbara Clemence called. They rushed her husband of 63 years to the Anne Arundel Medical Center. Doctors wasted no time trying to save his life.

"Took one look at me and said get that man to the operating room now,” says Vail. “He's in trouble. They took me up and he operated on me.”

Vail Clemence was released from the hospital after four days, and is now in coronary rehab, getting stronger each day. Doctors said it was a miracle considering his 37-minute wait for an ambulance.

The Clemence family now knows why it took so long for that ambulance to reach their home.

Prince George's County Fire and EMS spokesperson Mark Brady says it was a staffing issue.

17 firefighters and EMTs at the four Bowie fire stations were dispatched to an attic fire at a home on Church Road, leaving every Bowie station unmanned. When Barbara called about her husband minutes after the fire call was dispatched, the Belair Bowie station close to their home was out of service. There wasn't anyone to drive the ambulance.

"We take our calls on a first-come, first-serve basis, so if that happens, additional units are coming from farther away to handle that secondary emergency,” Brady says. “It's just as important, but units are already committed to another scene.”

So instead of dispatching an ambulance from Bowie, they had to call one from Springdale, ten miles and 37 minutes away.

"If I had died, that would have been a black eye for the county," Vail Clemence says.

Brady says the county needs 815 career firefighters. Right now, they have just 750. They could also use hundreds of volunteers so no station is left empty when calls go out.

The county is trying to hire a full-time recruiter to get more firefighters and EMTs on the street. There are currently 43 people in the fire academy, which should ease the staffing shortages a little when they graduate. Two more recruiting classes are set for the next few months.

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