Extra traffic in booming downtown Fort Lauderdale slows 911 response times

Downtown traffic is delaying emergency responders from reaching victims, a dangerous growing pain for the developing city.

Fort Lauderdale’s urban core is undergoing an unprecedented building boom. The burgeoning downtown population adds cars to the road, but there’s more to it than that, Fort Lauderdale fire-rescue personnel say:

— Roads or lanes are sometimes closed at high-rise construction sites.

— Traffic-calming devices like roundabouts and speed humps were added in recent years to side streets, as residents complained about more and more cut-through traffic. But the calming devices present problems for emergency vehicles in a hurry.

“Look at this,” he said, gesturing to a Sailboat Bend side street, Southwest Second Court, interrupted by triangular “chicanes” that required him to veer the 49-foot fire truck one direction, then the next. “Does this look like a street to you?”

The chicanes were marked with traffic cones, preparing for their removal at the new city manager’s request. Lagerbloom said the neighborhood didn’t like them, either, and he’s sympathetic to the need for emergency vehicles to get where they’re going.

“I don’t want them to have to navigate obstructions,” he said.

‘We count seconds’

Response times downtown started rising in 2015, according to fire department data. That year, the average time from dispatch to the arrival of personnel at a scene was six minutes, 45 seconds.

The following year, it rose to six minutes 53 seconds.

In 2017, it was seven minutes three seconds.

The city had to add two ambulances and increase personnel on other emergency vehicles just to get the average response time back to 2016 levels.

Now, the response times — on average are lagging again, Gollan said.

Downtown drivers have experienced for themselves the increasing crush of rush-hour traffic. In an emergency, though, even a brief delay can be deadly.

“We count seconds,” Battallion Chief Greg May said, adding that his father was saved by a quick-acting person when he dropped from cardiac arrest on a tennis court.

“Hold your breath,” May said. “I’ll tell you when four minutes is up.”

Rushing to the rescue

Driving the point home, an emergency call came in from south of the river. A woman in her early 50s was feeling faint on the top floor of a parking garage.

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