As is routine, the New Pass Bridge went up for a passing sailboat in the early morning hours May 31. However, a Longboat Key Fire Rescue ambulance was approaching the bridge from the north on Gulf of Mexico Drive at the same time. It was transporting a cardiac-arrest patient from Longboat to Sarasota Memorial Hospital.
The bridge tender, according to Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) officials, was never notified by a 911 operator that an ambulance was approaching and needed to get off the island.
If the bridge tender had been notified just minutes earlier, he or she could have denied a request by a sailboat operator to open the bridge.
Former Longboat Key Mayor George Spoll and his wife, Madelyn, were in the front of the line of cars waiting to get over the raised bridge May 31. He says they were “appalled” at what happened.
“The sailboat was not even close to going under the bridge when the ambulance arrived,” Spoll said. “The entire incident could have been avoided if the bridge tender would have closed the bridge and made the sailboat wait.”
FDOT spokesperson Lauren Haskell, however, said the bridge tender’s log reported it was too late to close the bridge span in time for the ambulance to cross.
“You can’t stop a sailboat like you can stop a boat,” Haskell said.
In total, Longboat Key Fire Rescue Chief Paul Dezzi said the ambulance had to wait four minutes for the sailboat to get through and the bridge to come down. The ambulance arrived at Sarasota Memorial Hospital in 13 minutes, which Dezzi said was “remarkable” time.
The patient was revived on Longboat Key, and the event was not life-threatening, Dezzi said.
“Fortunately, it didn’t change the outcome,” said Dezzi, who said it’s important for Key residents to realize patients are being treated in the ambulance. “The ambulance is an emergency room on wheels and we can perform all our life-saving techniques while in transit.”
Haskell told the Longboat Observer that the New Pass Bridge tender’s log reported three incidents in May and 17 incidents total since January in which the bridge tender was not notified of an ambulance’s pending approach.
In all of the other instances, however, the bridge was already down, and the ambulance did not have any problems getting off the island.
But the news was startling to Dezzi.
“It’s a problem that we need to take care of immediately,” said Dezzi, who said there’s no way of telling whether 911 operators or his crews are responsible for the emergency-notification lapse.
“We have a policy in place that any time the crews are on scene and anticipate a need to transport a patient to either bridge, we notify the 911 emergency-response center in Manatee County, and dispatch is supposed to call the bridge tender,” Dezzi said.
Lisa Kalmbach, operations coordinator for the Manatee County Emergency Communications Center, which receives all of the Key’s emergency calls, said that all dispatchers would be reminded of the importance of bridge-notification procedures.
“Bridge notification needs to be performed, even if the (emergency response) unit fails to specifically request it,” Kalmbach wrote in an email to Dezzi.
There have been no instances of emergency-notification lapses on the Longboat Pass Bridge.
Dezzi says the bridge-tender notification issue will be resolved immediately.
“We are fortunate this issue didn’t create any problems for us,” Dezzi said.
Contact Kurt Schultheis at [email protected].