Are you relatively new to this bustling metropolis? Don’t be shy about it, everyone was new to New York once upon a time, except, of course, those battle-hardened residents who’ve lived here their whole lives and Know It All. One of these lifers works among us at Gothamist—publisher Jake Dobkin grew up in Park Slope and still resides there. He is now fielding questions—ask him anything by sending an email here, but be advised that Dobkin is “not sure you guys will be able to handle my realness.” We can keep you anonymous if you prefer; just let us know what neighborhood you live in.
This week’s question comes from a New Yorker who is sick of the ambulances idling outside his apartment, but feels guilty complaining about it.
I live a few blocks from an FDNY house in north Brooklyn, and recently one of their ambulances has taken to idling in front of my apartment. A lot. For, like, HOURS at a time in the evening. Oftentimes I get home from work and they’re in the cab napping with their big loud diesel engine idling away.
Usually with city vehicles I spot idling, I’ll 311 their asses; I work at a warehouse in Brooklyn adjacent to a school bus lot, and I have no problem ratting them out when they idle underneath my office window. But I do have reservations about calling in on paramedics. From what I gather, they’re supposed to be driving around at all times, but that seems a silly waste of resources (what’s the odds that by driving around they’ll be any closer to an emergency than if they just chilled by the firehouse?) and also, Jesus, driving around Brooklyn for hours is an exhausting idea and I like the idea of paramedics not being dog-tired when they’re trying to resuscitate someone. So I don’t have an issue with paramedics idling on the whole.
But shit man, that engine is loud and diesel fumes are stinky, and the weather is getting to the point where I’d like to be able to sit on my stoop after work, listen to the Mets on the radio with a stoop beer, and not be choked out by exhaust.
Do I talk to them? Do I anonymously rat them out? Do they need to chill on my corner EVERY night? I could handle a rotation; like one night a week would be cool, just not every evening until around 11 p.m.
Your thoughts on the matter are greatly appreciated. Thanks much!
-Joe in North Brooklyn
A native New Yorker responds:
I feel your pain! There are few things more irritating when you’re trying to sleep or have a quiet stoop-beer than the grinding sound of a loud diesel engine. On the list of annoying New York street noises, they rank just below jackhammers and garbage trucks, but above Fresh Direct refrigeration units and birds making sex noises (take my word on this—there are some pigeons doing it on top of the AC unit outside my desk window right now.)
A man and his matzoh. (Courtesy Jake Dobkin Private Collection)
New York City is quite strict with regular commercial and residential vehicles: “Current law requires that stationary drivers cut their engines after three minutes (one minute in a school zone) or face a warning; subsequent violations trigger a $220 fine.” There are, unfortunately for you, necessary exceptions for emergency vehicles.
That doesn’t mean the FDNY isn’t sympathetic to your plight. I emailed them, and Frank Dwyer, their press secretary, got right back to me with a ton of information about their current idling rules, and what they’re doing to reduce the burden on their residential neighbors. After explaining that the FDNY responds to 1.6 million medical emergencies a year, he wrote:
FDNY ambulances are staffed by EMTs and Paramedics, with two people assigned to an ambulance per tour. They begin their tours each day at an EMS Station, and then report to cross street locations when not on an active call. During the course of their tour, they will respond to several incidents, travel to and from hospitals and may stop back at their station to restock supplies as needed. On slower days, or in the overnight hours, there may be more downtime. FDNY averages approximately 4000 medical calls for ambulances each day.
The cross street locations are strategically chosen across all five boroughs to best maintain availability of units and ability to respond to calls. These locations are not based on a specific address (24 Main Street for example) but rather a 3 block radius that a unit is assigned to wait for a call. FDNY units respond from these locations rather than stations in order to provide greater coverage area and reduce travel time to calls. An ambulance may choose the exact spot in which to park for a few reasons, including:
- Parking availability at any given time in their response area
- Ambulances cannot block a hydrant or bus stop
- Security of the ambulance and members – a well-lit location for example
- Weather – heat, wind, etc
- Proximity to a highway, main thoroughfare, etc
FDNY ambulances do remain idling for a number of reasons, including:
- The computer aided dispatch needs to be operational to receive calls
- Ambulances contain medication that must be kept refrigerated
- Units must be ready to respond at a moment’s notice to a potentially life-threatening call
- Extreme temperature – either heat or air conditioning
The Department takes complaints about idling ambulances from those we serve very seriously. If an ambulance is parked on a location and there is a concern raised by a resident, the Department makes every effort to move the ambulance from that spot and to find another location in the three-block radius to park.
He added that the FDNY is working on two programs to eliminate the need for diesel idling entirely. In one, the department is building curbside charging stations. The state has provided funding for 39 of these, each of which will keep 45 tons of carbon out of the atmosphere. Locations for each station have to be approved by the local community boards, but they have approval from Woodlawn in the Bronx and Masbeth in Queens so far.
Ambulance charging station, courtesy FDNY
The second program requires the installation of auxiliary power units in all new ambulances—these units provide electricity for the AC, radios, computers, and lights, without having to turn on the engine. So as the older ambulances are replaced, the problem you’re having should gradually fade away.
In the meantime, take Frank’s advice and voice your concern. You could call 311 and ask them to get the truck moved, but a more expeditious tactic would be walking downstairs, knocking on the window, and talking with the driver. A polite request to vary their location around the neighborhood, potentially accompanied by the offer of a small plate of cookies, will probably get the job done faster.
If they can’t or won’t move the ambulance, I recommend a white noise machine, triple paned windows, and one of those fancy HEPA air filters. I have friends who have apartments like ten feet from the BQE, and they have used these tools to stay sane while benefiting from the proportionally lower rents that living highway-adjacent provides.
Or, I don’t know, meditate on the important service those paramedics and EMTs render to our city every day, and console yourself with the fact that if you ever have a heart attack or choke on a slice of pizza, help is literally only seconds away downstairs!
N.B.: According to FDNY stats, the average response time for a heart attack or choking incident in NYC is about five minutes. This is really fast, given the traffic around here! You can increase the chances that the first responders will be able to resuscitate someone if you’ve correctly applied CPR and/or the Heimlich maneuver before they arrive—both are easy to learn. Take a CPR class!
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