Dial 911 during a medical emergency and you expect an ambulance to arrive within minutes.

In Sioux Falls firemen, who are trained for medical emergencies, arrive on average four minutes before the ambulance.

And while Paramedics Plus boasts high compliance rates for its arrival times, there are still times 911 has to put a call on hold for an ambulance because they’re all tied up. 

That used to be called “Level Zero” and it was the focus of our KELOLAND News investigation last summer.

Level Zero

Whether it’s a loved one not breathing, a heart attack or a car crash, you pick up the phone and dial 911. You expect the first medical responders to arrive within minutes and that includes an ambulance.


After that the City made some changes, along with Metro Communications and Paramedics Plus on how to handle those busy times.

But is that eliminating the wait some people experience for an ambulance? 

KELOLAND News Investigates has been looking into it and finds that the answer is no. 

Take Sunday May 7, just a little over a week ago–there were 8 emergency calls in 70 minutes–a very busy night. 


What we heard and saw on the 911 traffic logs that night were calls for 980, 981, 982 and 983.

Paramedics Plus ambulances are numbered in the 900s.  But those truck numbers don’t go quite that high. 

We discovered 980 means no ambulance available.  981 means one call holding for an ambulance and that number can go all the way up to 984.

On Sunday, May 7 the spike in calls for ambulances began at 5:46 p.m. with a medical emergency on West 12th. 10 more calls for ambulances came in between that one and 9 p.m.  At 8:30 p.m. Paramedics Plus began running out of ambulances. So when the call came in from the Union Gospel Mission just before 9 p.m., this is what was happening

900 resource depleted is another way of saying, no ambulance available. 

“He couldn’t feel his arms. He had really radical breathing–it seemed like–it was definitely a medical emergency,” Damon Wise said.

Damon Wise has worked at the Union Gospel Mission for 6 years and sees a few medical emergencies there each month, including the one on May 7 when he called 911.

“I got the man to sit right here in this chair and wait for the EMTs to get here. The fire department showed up. They showed up within 2 or 3 minutes,” Wise said.

Union Gospel Mission surveillance video shows the fire department arriving at 8:57 p.m. 

“We just needed an ambulance to get here and get him to the hospital,” Wise said.

Those first responders asked Metro Communications how long that was going to take.

“It was the usual that they were inundated in town and that everybody was very busy and that they’d be here just as soon as they could,” Wise said.  

A Paramedics Plus ambulance did arrive finally at 9:23 p.m., 26 minutes after the Fire Department.

“26 minutes? You might need more ambulances in town, yes ma’am. It’s a concern,” Wise said.

We asked Metro Communications about why it took so long.

“Call volume spikes and you just have no control over it,” Justin Faber, Quality Assurance Coordinator for Metro Communications, said.

And in the case of the man at the mission who was either having a seizure or a heart attack?  He was able to walk out to the ambulance with paramedics.

“So we have to kind of weigh the options and say is this patient critical. Are they deteriorating? Are they going to suffer from having to wait? So Sioux Falls Fire can make that judgment call and in this case, the patient was completely stable,” Faber said.

Paramedics Plus refused to answer questions about this late call, citing HIPPA laws.
While there were at least three calls on hold that Sunday night for an ambulance, mutual aid by MED-Star from Brandon was not called. 

Dispatchers make that determination based on the severity of the calls and when Paramedics Plus ambulances will become available, vs drive time from Brandon. 

However, MED-Star was called to the scene of a deadly accident in town in April when no Paramedics Plus trucks were available.

Monday on KELOLAND News at 10, we’ll show you how long it took for an ambulance to arrive on the scene in that case and others where it was a matter of life and death and the ambulance was late.