HONOLULU (KHON2) — An unusually high number of City ambulances were closed during Sunday’s midnight shift, nine out of 21 ambulances were offline due to low staffing. The Honolulu Emergency Services Director Dr. Jim Ireland said sick leave due to COVID-19 was among the reasons. 

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Saturday evening’s EMS briefing included plans to cover nine ambulance units that would be closed for the shift beginning at midnight Sunday. 

Dr. Ireland said, “Overnight we didn’t see an increase in response times, we didn’t see calls dropped, but clearly you know it’s not an ideal situation for us, and I think in the long-term we need a bigger buffer of personnel.”

The reasons for closing nine units ranged from planned vacations, injuries on the job and personnel calling in sick. Some of those sick employees reported COVID-19 as a reason, Dr. Ireland said he is starting to see an increase of COVID circulating among the department. 

He said, “Unfortunately COVID will not go away. We can mitigate it the best way we can but it’s still here.”

The department was able to bring five ambulances online by 7:00 a.m. Sunday, three of those from private company AMR. 

As for Sunday’s afternoon shift, five units were closed. Sundays are usually a slower day for ambulance transport but EMS did respond along with the Honolulu Fire Department to two rescues. One at Makaha trail to treat a person who fell about 20 feet while riding an electric bike and an air rescue of an injured hiker at Koko Head. 

There is never a shortage of EMS calls for treatment, new recruits cannot come on the job soon enough. 

Dr Ireland said, “We hire from KCC but we just weren’t getting enough people and so now  we hire from KCC and have our own academy which has really doubled the number of people we’re able to bring into the department.”

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Ireland said roughly 50 new employees will be joining the department by next year; it will be staff needed for the two new ambulances that will increase coverage in Honolulu.