It's Rural/Metro vs. TLC as competition comes to emergency services in Syracuse

— For 30 years, Rural/Metro has held the exclusive franchise to haul Syracuse's sick, injured, dead and dying.

But that changed this spring. TLC Emergency Medical Services believes there's enough business to go around, and have begun taking 911 emergency calls dispatched from the county alongside Rural/Metro.

TLC contends that its presence in Syracuse's emergency ambulance field means more resources for an increasingly needy population. Rural/Metro argues TLC never proved the city has enough need to justify a second ambulance service, and has taken the fight to the state health department with a request for an investigation.

More need, indeed?

There's no arguing that calls for emergency services have steadily increased, according to the 2009 Onondaga County 911 annual report. In 2006, Syracuse fire and Rural/Metro were dispatched to 18,422 calls; by 2009 the number had jumped to 20,512 dispatches.

"The demands are growing by leaps and bounds," said TLC Director of Operations Lon Fricano. "Anybody who listens to a scanner can tell that calls are being held because there's not enough resources."

Fricano said instances of mutual aid -- when outside emergency service providers come into the city to pick up overflow -- should be the exception, not the rule. But in Syracuse, it's happening fairly routinely, he said.

Mike Addario, Rural/Metro's Central New York general manager, disagrees.

Of the approximately 50,000 calls Addario said Rural/Metro answers in its six-county coverage area each year, he estimates about 200 of them are turned over to mutual aid organizations.

"That's less than one percent," Addario added.

In most major urban centers in New York and beyond, more than one emergency ambulance service patrols the city and responds to 911 calls. In Rochester, Oneida, Utica and Binghamton, at least two different ambulance services provide emergency medical transport to residents.

Staying healthier, longer

While the rate of violent crime has stayed relatively steady in Syracuse, there is another statistic that points to an increased need for emergency medical transport: an aging population.

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