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NYC Faced With Tough Questions About Blizzard Response

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- A winter storm that dumped nearly 2 feet of snow on New York City is also whipping up criticism about how the city handled the response.

City officials said Monday night it could require another 24 hours to clear the snowy and icy side streets, WCBS 880's Ginny Kosola reported.


WCBS 880 Reporter Ginny Kosola reports the city is working to get back to normal

The heavy snow sent city emergency services into a nose dive, with ambulances and fire trucks trapped in snow and facing long delays. There was also bickering between the city and some unions over whether a snow emergency should have been called, CBS 2's Marcia Kramer reported.

Just how much did the city struggle in its response to medical and fire emergencies on Monday? So bad that CBS 2 has learned EMS crews from three counties in New Jersey had to rush to New York City's aid Monday night.

As residents were being asked not to call 911 unless there was an emergency, sources said the city was having difficulty responding to many high-priority calls.

Crews from Burlington, Somerset and Mercer counties in New Jersey arrived in New York City to help with the back load of calls – 20 crews were assigned to Queens and 20 ambulances went to Brooklyn.

Al Hagen, President of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association, said he is "demanding a hearing."

"It's not right. The essential services of this city have clearly taken a back seat," Hagen said.

There were also questions about whether a potentially dangerous situation could have been headed off.

Monday afternoon, there was a three-hour wait to get an ambulance to critical calls, like cardiac arrests and traumas, sources told CBS 2. In addition, lower priority EMS calls were said to have been held up for nearly 12 hours before an ambulance could get to the scene.

At one point there were 120 ambulances stuck in the snow, Kramer reported.

The combination of snow problems and the need to respond to health emergencies gave the FDNY about a 60 percent availability to respond to fires, sourced said.

A dramatic example of the chaos was what happened to a Queens' woman suffering an asthmatic attack. Engine 289 got to her house and spent 10 hours with her waiting for an EMS ambulance to show up. They kept running out of oxygen, eventually using up 26 bottles.  The woman was finally taken to Elmhurst Hospital when the 46 Battalion Chief arrived.


WCBS 880 Reporter Ginny Kosola talks with Councilman Peter Vallone about the lack of plows in Queens.

EMS and fire sources questioned why the city didn't call a snow emergency to keep cars off streets, which would have made it easier for emergency vehicles and snow plows to get around.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg blamed the fast pace of snowfall. He said it fell at 2 to 3 inches per hour during some periods overnight, and many main roadways had to be plowed repeatedly.

Bloomberg quipped back when asked about the long delays by Kramer.

"We are always concerned about any backlog. You can rest assured that is our number one priority," Bloomberg said.

Patrick Bahnken, Head of the EMS union said he has not seen a more difficult emergency situation  "since 9-11."  Senator Karl Kruger, of Brooklyn, is demanding hearings into the "highly disturbing" news that EMS was on a 3 hour delay for critical cases.

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