Months After Tragic Death, Council Passes Response-Time Bill

By Yi Yang, Epoch Times
December 10, 2013 Updated: December 11, 2013

NEW YORK—On June 4 this summer, 4-year-old Ariel Russo was struck by an SUV that jumped the curb. Her grandmother, Katia Gutierrez, was walking her to school, and was also seriously injured.

Almost eight minutes passed by the time an ambulance arrived, a long response time. Ariel died from her injuries soon after she arrived at the hospital.

It was later revealed that it took an unusually long four minutes for the ambulance to be dispatched.

The tragedy caused City Council to push for a law to require the fire department to monitor and record emergency response times.

On Tuesday, the City Council voted to pass the Ariel Russo Response Time Reporting Act.

The act requires the fire department to track the time between a report to a 911 operator and the arrival of the first emergency vehicle to fire, medical, and other emergencies. It will also require the fire department to submit the response times for all five boroughs to the City Council and the mayor.

“The Russo family and everyone within the five boroughs deserves to know that when they call 911, help will arrive as soon as possible,” said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. “They also deserve to know, if help doesn’t arrive as soon as possible, we can find out what happened and fix it.”

The Russo family was at the announcement. Ariel’s parents Sophia and Alan Russo broke down in tears as Speaker Christine Quinn explained the bill that was named after Ariel.

“The passing of this law means so much to me as her mother because it means that even though my child died, she didn’t die in vain,” said Russo. “As a result, this change is happening, and it could prevent other tragic deaths.”

The city’s recently updated emergency response system came under scrutiny when Ariel Russo was struck by an unlicensed teen driver in June. More than 4 minutes passed before an ambulance was dispatched to the scene of the accident. After it was dispatched, the ambulance took 3 minutes and 33 seconds to reach the girl. The Daily News reported that Ariel was alive and waiting for help after being hit.

The city said that the delay was caused by human error: the worker that the emergency call was assigned to was logged off for a scheduled break and it took almost 4 minutes before the next operator logged in and saw the call. In other words, the technology didn’t fail.

In June, City Council members held a hearing about the emergency system and called for a law that would require the police and fire department to record and publish data showing 911 response times from the moment the call is placed to when action is taken. On Tuesday, that law was passed.

“This bill will honor Ariel in memory and honor the bravery and dignity of her family who’s fought to make sure that the city does a better job,” said Quinn.

Yi Yang is a special correspondent in New York.