BART paramedics will offer delay triage

A woman’s decision to lie down on the train tracks at the Montgomery Street BART station ended without any serious injuries. But the ensuing one-hour train delay brought to light a pressing need for the transit agency: on-site medical assistance.

BART was forced to call on the Fire Department to extricate the woman, resulting in cascading delays that affected the entire system.

With Wednesday’s events as a backdrop, BART’s board of directors elected to approve a three-year contract with King-American Ambulance Co., allowing for paramedics to be deployed at the Embarcadero station during the morning and evening rush hours.

More than 355,000 people ride BART during weekdays and 200,000 on weekends, according to agency data. When a train is delayed in the downtown tunnel, there is no alternate track on which to route another train.

The on-site paramedics will play a crucial role in relieving congestion, especially at the Embarcadero station, where four ofBART’s lines converge, spokesman Linton Johnson said.

“It’s like one lane of traffic in each direction, so you can’t exactly move a train around a problem,” Johnson said. “With New York you have the luxury of double tracks in one direction, so you can move a passenger onto another train.”

BART has positioned emergency medical workers at the Embarcadero station for the past year as part of a pilot project.

The experiment has yielded positive results.

From October 2006 to May 2007, BART riders experienced 62 train delays as a result of medical emergencies. That number dropped to 20 — a 68 percent reduction — within the same time span one year later, after the arrival of paramedics to the Embarcadero station. As a result, an extra 200,000 passengers made it to their destination on time, BART officials said.

With an ambulance stationed aboveground at Market Street, the onsite paramedics would be able to quickly respond to emergencies at BART’s downtown stations, according to Johnson. Their familiarity with the BART system allows them to move injured passengers safely and with great efficiency, he added.

“In the past we’d have to make a call out to an outside firefighter or paramedic and you’d wait and wait and wait,” Johnson said.

The medical personnel will work from 6 to 9 a.m. and from 3 to 7 p.m., during BART’s busiest travel times. Setbacks that happen in the middle of the day — such as Wednesday’s incident — will still be handled by outside assistance.

BART’s contract with King-American will cost the district a little more than $400,000 for the next three years.

According to Johnson, New York City is the only other major transit system in the United States with on-site medical emergency technicians.

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

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