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Cop: Nation's busiest airport only has 'one damn ambulance'

Response times for two airport EMS units are up 65 percent since Atlanta's airport decided to knock down its busiest firehouse.

Brendan Keefe, Lindsey Basye

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When a 76-year-old passenger fell in the security line at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on July 28, she had no idea she would be forced to wait more than an hour and a half for an ambulance.

Carol Chapman was flying home to New Jersey when the fall dislocated her hip.

“Did you break your leg,” an Atlanta Police sergeant asked after he radioed for an ambulance, seeing Chapman's foot twisted in an unnatural direction.

The injured passenger would end up sitting on the floor of the main TSA checkpoint for a full hour before firefighters put her in an airport wheelchair, where she’d wait another 35 minutes for an ambulance.

A relatively-new airport operations employee grew concerned, saying to the police sergeant, “it’s been about 12 minutes since the fall.” He responded, “yeah, they’re notoriously slow.”

A fire engine arrived after nearly 15 minutes, but still no ambulance.

“Are they anywhere close? Where are they coming from?,” the APD sergeant asked responding EMTs from Engine 24.

Credit: WXIA

The airport’s Medic 4 had been dispatched, but was later diverted to a cardiac call on a plane. “So that tells me you only have one ambulance working today,” the police sergeant asked. The Atlanta Fire Rescue Department sergeant answered, “we should have two.”

There are four ambulances assigned to the airport.

“We ain’t got enough people to work,” the fire sergeant said, recorded by the police body camera. The police sergeant scoffed, “still not enough to cover when you have 65,000 employees and 250,000 passengers coming through [the airport every day].”

Dispatch records show the airport’s 911 center called Grady EMS for help, but Grady did not have an ambulance available either. Then airport dispatchers called Clayton County. The fourth try was with the City of Forest Park which sent an ambulance to take the 76-year-old woman to the hospital.

“We’re still waiting on a transport unit,” the police sergeant said. “This is ridiculous. This is the busiest airport in the world and they’ve got one damn ambulance?”