PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — Some residents in northern Palm Beach County are waiting on average more than 10 minutes for fire rescue to respond to calls for help, and they tell Contact 5 that it's a matter of life and death.
Murry Abramowitz, a 91-year-old great-grandfather, is still recovering from a recent heart attack that nearly took his life.
"I wasn't breathing, and I had no heartbeat. I was legally dead," he said.
It took medics eight minutes and 54 seconds to respond from a station nearly four miles away from Eastpointe Country Club, according to Palm Beach County Fire Rescue.
That's quicker than the 10-minute and four-second average it takes fire rescue to respond to the neighborhood.
"I think it's a matter of life and death in many cases, and I think it's very serious," Abramowitz said.
Retired Dr. George Lewin, who only recently joined Abramowitz's bridge game, jumped into action to help save the 91-year-old, along with staff at the country club.
"I first cleared his airway with my finger on his tongue and gave several breaths to make sure his airway was open and then began chest compressions," Lewin recalled. "He was defibrillated rapidly. Within a few seconds, we detected pulses."
The nearly nine-minute response doesn't meet the county's goal of seven minutes and thirty seconds or the average response time of six minutes and 46 seconds.
Contact 5 reviewed average response times for Eastpointe and Palm Beach Country Estates. Of the 600 plus responses since January 2020, we discovered some people waited as long as 17 minutes for help to arrive.
The longest response time for Eastpoint was 16 minutes and 59 seconds on April 30, while the longest response time for Palm Beach Country Estates was 17 minutes and 50 seconds on Feb. 7.
Fire rescue also failed to meet its countywide average response time for both neighborhoods since at least 2018.
Contact 5 asked Lewin what can go wrong in 10 minutes while you wait for an ambulance.
"Everything can go wrong," he said. "If you get to someone within three minutes, the chance of having no damage is excellent, and your survival rates are extremely poor after eight to 10 minutes."
Palm Beach County Fire Rescue turned down our request for an on-camera interview to discuss the response times.
In a written response, Chief Reginald Duren said in part:
"Palm Beach County Fire Rescue is working directly with the Eastpointe community to hear their concerns and provide support and education for their neighborhood response initiative."
To help reduce the wait during cardiac emergencies, neighbors recently purchased and installed seven automated external defibrillators. They're working to create a neighborhood rapid response team.
"It could save a life and being there are many people in the community that are of advance age, there’s a likelihood that they’re going to be using this," Eastpointe resident Ed Epstein said.
He told Contact 5 that fire rescue contacted him to offer assistance to help plan and train the rapid response cardiac team.
Epstein's neighbors just to the north in Palm Beach Country Estates are facing an even longer wait. It takes fire rescue 11 minutes and 43 seconds on average to respond to an emergency.
"That's way too long. That's not adequate. We pay our fair share of taxes, so we should get good service," Kevin Baker said. "The issue is not going to go away until we do get a fire station."
Fire rescue says it responds to more than 144,000 calls for 911 service each year across 1,800 square miles.
Full Statement from Fire Chief Reginald K. Duren of Palm Beach County Fire Rescue:
“Palm Beach County Fire Rescue is working directly with the Eastpointe community to hear their concerns and provide support and education for their neighborhood response initiative. We recommend that all citizens get trained in Hands-only CPR and AED usage. Additionally, all of our 911 dispatchers provide “Hands-Only CPR” instructions and first-aid directions over the phone as units are responding to the call for service.
Palm Beach County Fire Rescue firefighter-paramedics respond to more than 144-thousand 911 calls for service each year across 1,800 square miles. Our standard is to maintain an average countywide response time below 7 minutes and 30 seconds. We achieve that with an actual countywide response time average of 6 minutes and 46 seconds.
The response time of a responding unit is directly affected by many different factors, including but not limited to an accurate location description to the 911 dispatcher, neighborhood locations, routes available, traffic & traffic calming devices (such as roundabouts, speed bumps, or humps), road quality, weather conditions, and front security gates. We continuously aim to arrive safely at the scene in the shortest time possible to provide the highest level of emergency service.”