A young boy who suffered from smoke inhalation during a fire in his family’s Strawberry Mansion home died on Saturday night. Albert Blassengale, 10, had been in critical condition at Children’s Hospital since June 7, when a fire tore through his house on North 27th Street. Authorities said the rescuers provided CPR to the boy on the scene.

A Facebook memorial page has been set up for Blassengale. His father, Jerry Blassengale, wrote: “The best thing he ever gave me was an opportunity to be his father.” According to the page, the 10-year-olds’ organs will be donated. LINK

Nowhere in this story is there any mention that the first three fire engines due to respond to this house fire were tied up on medical calls and unable to respond. Why was that left out? Due to the dangerously short-staffed Philly EMS and equally insane high call volume the fire department like most fire departments runs a program know as the “First Responder” program. Throughout its history the “First Responder Program” has been and continues to be a complete and total failure by any measurable statistic. It should be eliminated immediately.

From another report:

“Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers says the first three companies to normally respond to the fire location were already on medical emergencies. As a result, Ladder 14, which does not carry water, did not have a hose line to fight off the flames as they entered the home”.

The stated goal for 911 was always “to stop a crime or save a life”. But today 911 is just another government-run, social outreach program. Typically its wasteful, long on promises, long on expenses and short on performance. The concept revolves around cardiac arrest and brain death. When the heart stops the brain, deprived of oxygen begins to die within a few short minutes. The theory is that if we can get to a patient within 5? minutes we can save them with CPR, Oxygen and Automatic defibrillators. In theory. In reality we rarely get to a heart attack victim in time because most heart attacks aren’t witnessed. People who do collapse in front of you with massive heart attacks are usually dead before they hit the floor. Sorry, reality check. In other cases people delay calling or aren’t immediately discovered. Again sorry. ANY delay with cardiac is usually fatal.

Think about it: someone has to have a heart attack and IMMEDIATELY notify 911. Thats a minute to a minute and a half. We get the call and are on the street in another minute. Now fighting traffic and other factors we are looking at a good response time of three minutes. That’s FIVE AND A HALF MINUTES MINIMUM. But usually its a lot longer. It’s nearly impossible to achieve the stated goal of the First Responder program under ideal conditions. What usually happens is we are sent out on call after call after call for non emergency situations. (We’re talking thousands a year). Then when real emergencies come in we’re caught short. These calls take their toll on the budget, equipment and manpower and as we have seen… innocent lives.

Worst case scenario is a fire breaks out and the closest companies aren’t available and in a case like this someone dies. How do you justify tying up fire trucks (whose sole purpose is to fight fires) on medical calls because you won’t hire enough paramedics?

When someone calls 911 they are supposed to be reporting an emergency. Except now people dial 911 to get healthcare. Most of the time they call with non critical or non emergency issues. They usually just want a ride to the hospital or their problem is minor. The other times they call is for long-term care issues that are above and beyond anything that first responders can treat (think terminal Cancer patients). These people just need a ride to the hospital or dialysis or sometimes to their Doctors office. No kidding.

Since the city can’t recruit, hire and retain Paramedics they are constantly under staffed. They also refuse to divide EMS from fire suppression and supervise each division properly. This forces firefighters into the EMS program. Shortages in available ambulances are a nightly occurrence. To fill the gap fire companies are dispatched to the scene to manage whatever the problem is until an ambulance becomes available. This ties up firefighting resources. In the case of this house fire you see what happens. Fire companies responding to non emergency medical calls aren’t available for real life fire emergencies. Add to this entire mess is the loss of 10 front line companies and you see we’re spread as thin as tissue. Companies are responding insanely long distances any more.

Maybe I’m aggravated because of the young age of this boy and how he didn’t have to die. He was a Boy Scout who recently crossed over from Cub Scouts. That makes him the same age as my Nick. I feel for his father and family, I can’t imagine their pain. My deepest sympathies go out to them. This insanity has to stop.



  1. Dustoff says:


    I take it you guys send your engine with your aid units during a medical call?

    We use to but most often just the aid unit goes when it comes to EMS calls.
    Usually our Medic has one or two medics. Depends on shifts or time off.

    Ladder 14 doesn’t carry water??? WTF. Our E-ones do.

    As always Capt. Stay safe.

  2. Old NFO says:

    I wonder how THIS will be covered in the press, if at all…

  3. Bob G. says:

    I’m glad to see YOU are giving this the coverage the press does not.

    Kudos to you, sir.

    Stay safe out there.

  4. Cs says:

    Regardless of the area QRS/first responder systems came out of shortage of EMS units thus these systems enabled the system remaining short staffed.

    Its the same when philly police transport trauma patients. It enables short staffing, if people laid bleeding in the street for 12:12 min (our avg responce time) there would be a public out cry.

%d bloggers like this: