Losing ‘02 Charlie’


By Elizabeth O’Brien

ambulance is an emergency in Chinatown

The Fire Department has jeopardized public safety with its recent decision to pull an ambulance from the corner of Broadway and Canal St., community members and elected officials protested at a rally at the intersection on Friday.

The “02 Charlie” Emergency Medical Service ambulance was stationed regularly at the corner of Canal and Broadway for more than 10 years, until the Fire Department diverted it on Sat., Feb. 21, according to Councilmember Alan Gerson. Gerson joined Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver at the rally to call for immediate restoration of the E.M.S. service that covered Chinatown, Little Italy, Soho and South Village neighborhoods.

“Closing ‘02 Charlie’ E.M.S. makes absolutely no sense,” Silver said. “This is just another example of how the city fails to understand the needs of Lower Manhattan, especially the Chinese community, especially since the events of Sept. 11.”

The ambulance was relocated because the Fire Department needed additional units to cover for a private E.M.S. service that went out of business in Brooklyn, not because of city budget cuts, said Donald Faeth, vice president of the union of Uniformed E.M.T.’s and Paramedics, Local 2507. The unit at Canal and Broadway responded to a huge volume of 3,000 calls per year, Faeth said.

“They didn’t have it here for no reason — it was a high-volume area and you need the ambulance there,” Faeth said.

A spokesperson for the Fire Department confirmed that the ambulance unit formerly stationed at Canal and Broadway had been redeployed to a location in need of additional ambulance coverage. Fire Department officials have spoken with community leaders about the issue, said David Billig, the spokesperson.

Units from St. Vincent’s and Bellevue hospitals will now serve the area formerly under the Canal St. ambulance, Faeth said. Not only will this increase response time, Gerson said, but also the units farther north may not be familiar with the neighborhood’s complicated traffic patterns.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, Park Row, a majority artery connecting Chinatown to the rest of Lower Manhattan, has been closed by the Police Department for security reasons. The restricted access has hurt the Chinatown economy and endangered its health, residents say. N.Y.U. Downtown Hospital officials have said that the shutting of Park Row has made it harder for ambulances to reach them.

The cancellation of the Canal St. ambulance therefore hits an already vulnerable population, residents and elected officials said.

“We’ve already been cut off from Downtown Hospital by the closure of Park Row,” said Paul Lee, a Mott St. resident and community activist. Lee, who has asthma, said he has been saved twice by emergency room staff at the hospital on William St. “It’s a dangerous environment to be in.”