Portland firefighters had to adopt unconventional measures for patient transport. On New Year’s Eve morning, a man experiencing chest pains and at risk for a heart attack was transported on a TriMet bus due to the unavailability of ambulances, as reported by Portland Fire & Rescue.

Responding to a 911 call at 2 a.m. on December 31, Portland Fire Captain Dennis Bell, recognizing the urgency, opted for the bus transport when AMR, the county’s ambulance provider, declared a ‘Level Zero’ status with no available ambulances. With no space in the fire rescue vehicle, the decision was made to utilize the vacant bus.

TriMet bus driver Joseph Wiggins, seeking permission from superiors, agreed to transport the patient. Wiggins acknowledged it wasn’t his first medical emergency on a bus but considered it one of the most dramatic instances. Describing the emotional moment, he expressed his eagerness to get the man prompt medical attention.

Portland Fire & Rescue reported at least 22 ‘non-traditional’ transports in 2023, where firefighters had to find alternative means due to a shortage of ambulances. In response to the situation, a new function allowing firefighters to report non-traditional transports was added to the internal system in the early fall of 2023, aiming to enhance tracking capabilities.

While the TriMet bus transport succeeded in this case, Captain Bell emphasized the inherent risks, stating that fire trucks and rescue vehicles are not equipped for patient transport, and minutes matter in critical situations. He underscored the importance of proper staffing for ambulances, acknowledging the challenges faced by AMR in meeting response time requirements.

AMR attributes its challenges to Multnomah County’s two-paramedic requirement for ambulances, stating difficulties in hiring and retaining enough paramedics. County health leaders argue that two paramedics provide better patient care, leading to a fine of $513,000 imposed on AMR in November for late responses. The ongoing situation is described as a ‘crisis’ by AMR leadership.

Portland Fire & Rescue and TriMet did not provide updates on the patient’s condition, but Captain Bell acknowledged the widespread attention to the issue and the need for change.