Mayor Lee says ambulance response times improving

San Francisco Fire Department Chief Joanne Hayes-White.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee expressed his support for San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White to the Board of Supervisors Tuesday following calls by the city's firefighter unions for her to step down over the department's alleged failure to provide timely emergency medical response to the public.

Supervisor London Breed, who has repeatedly conveyed her lack of confidence in the Fire Department's administration, asked the mayor, "What are you doing to hold the leader of the fire department accountable?"

Breed expressed her view that no one should have to wait extended periods for services or an ambulance.

Firefighters unions have stated that Hayes-White's lack of strategic planning has led to the department's troubles.

A letter signed by the San Francisco firefighters' union and other employee groups sent to the mayor in September announced their unanimous decision to express their "lack of confidence in the current Administration."

Hayes-White was appointed to the position of fire chief in 2004 by then-Mayor Gavin Newsom and oversees a department of approximately 1,800 members as well as an operating budget of $250 million, according to the San Francisco Fire Department website.

But Mayor Lee stood his ground Tuesday, stating that the ambulance response times are improving, and didn't express a need to change the department's administration.

He said the inadequate response times were a result of a growing city with a growing demand, following years of significant budget cuts to the department.

Lee said that during 90 percent of emergencies, ambulances arrive within 10 minutes and that the department is working to decrease response times even further.

He said response times are expected to continue in a downward trend with the addition of 35 new hires, additional ambulances provided by private ambulance companies, as well as renewed efforts to reduce the volume of non-emergency 911 calls.

San Francisco fire spokeswoman Mindy Talmadge confirmed today plans to restore the HOME team program, an emergency medical response effort supported by the city's Fire Department and Department of Public Health that is designed to respond directly to the needs of the homeless community, who make up a large amount of the 911 call volume.

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