Chris Christie’s Bridgegate Risked Lives with First Responder Delays

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Every minute counts in an emergency. The delays caused by New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie’s bridgegate were a danger to the public interest.

“For every minute lost in response, there is a growing loss of recovery on a percentage basis that is greater than 1:1,” R. Leckey Harrison explained to me in an interview when I asked him if and how a three-five minute delay would impact first responders.

Mr. Harrison has fifteen years as a firefighter/EMT, is an active volunteer EMT with shifts to the level of 144 hours a month and he is also the co-director of Whidbey CareNet, which provides Stress and Trauma Relief Training for emergency responders.

I questioned Mr. Harrison about the impact of delays on recovery/rescue after reading Patrick Foye, who is quoted in part of the document dump regarding the closure of a lane in the bridge by Chris Christie’s administration as writing, “I pray that no life has been lost or trip of a hospital-or-hospice bound patient delayed.”

As we now know, the trips of several hospital bound patients were delayed, and at least one person died.

Mr. Foye explained in his September 13th email that he made calls over this “very troubling” matter and found that three lanes in Fort Lee eastbound to the GWB were reduced to one lane on that Monday without notifying Fort Lee, the commuting public, the ED or the Media. “A decision of this magnitude,” he continued, “should be made only after careful deliberation and upon sign off by the ED… I am appalled by the … dangers created to the public interest.”

In a September 10, 2013 letter to Mayor Sokolich from Paul E Favia, an EMS Coordinator from Fort Lee/Office of Emergency Medical Services, Mr. Favia detailed the delays caused by the lane closures which obstructed medical help.

Mr. Favia wrote that on the 9th, response to calls that should have been less than 4 minutes were 9 to 7 minutes. Another delay occurred when they responded to a 91-year-old woman who was unconscious due to cardiac arrest. Another call that should have been 3 minutes took 8 minutes, to respond to chest pains. Again on the 10th, they responded to a male with chest pains, and a 3-4 minute call took 7 minutes for the letter writer and 11 minutes for the ambulance.

Mr. Harrison explained how critical a minute can be in responding to an emergency. “As to delayed response times, consider what Paramedics and EMTs operate by: ABC: A-irway, B-reathing, C-ircualtion. Patients need air. The window for that is roughly three minutes, meaning that if the brain is cut off from oxygen for three minutes, brain death can occur.”

A three minute window to save someone. The delays caused from the bridge were between three-five minutes and sometimes longer.

“A closed airway causes breathing difficulties. A body lacking air goes into respiratory and possibly cardiac arrest as the heart needs air to function. Circulation means the blood needs to flow. It can be interfered with by injuries to arteries and veins by accidents or illness. The bigger the blood vessel, the quicker the body loses blood. That can happen in minutes as well.”

Then Mr. Harrison addressed strokes and cardiac arrests where every minute counts, once again. “A related issue are strokes and cardiac arrest. If either can be interdicted sooner rather than later, the odds of successful recovery are good. For every minute lost in response, there is a growing loss of recovery on a percentage basis that is greater than 1:1.”

Does time matter? “(I)t is the reason we have lights and sirens on our vehicles. The lights and sirens are simply a request for right of way. We have no legal right to assume it.”

It’s not just individuals who are at risk, though. Whole neighborhoods are put at risk when first responders are delayed. Mr. Harrison explained that a “fire can double in size quickly, depending on a lot of variables. From a smoldering cigarette butt in a chair, in less than 6 minutes a room can be fully engulfed.”

Mr. Harrison finished with the sober reminder, “Timely response matters in fire and medical emergencies.”

It is one thing to face obstacles that can’t be helped in attempting to rescue people; it’s quite another when the delay was deliberately inflicted upon a community for revenge.

This goes far beyond the political. There is no excuse for this kind of behavior. Absolutely none. It is truly beyond the scope of responsible people to endanger the lives of their fellow citizens for something so petty as political punishment.

Image CREDIT: AP

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