Changes to emergency staffing at Atlanta's airport

Image 1 of 11

The fire chief in Atlanta is taking steps to shore up emergency health response at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

The changes come in the wake of a tragedy in which an elderly passenger collapsed on the north curbside. He went down just after 6 pm. But the closest EMTs, who are assigned to be inside the airport building, customarily leave at 6 p.m.

There were repeated calls by airport staff to get fire officials to that curb. But 911 audio obtained by FOX 5 News showed an "extremely delayed response" from those firefighters who were on engines too far away. The passenger may have passed no matter the location of the first EMT, but the incident exposed a hole in the fire coverage.

On Tuesday, Chief Randall Slaughter told the city council public safety panel that fire coverage was originally designed to respond to structure incidents at the airport -- not people suffering a health emergency.

The chief plans to hire twenty staffers working as civilians to provide EMS services in the terminal and the concourses. And their hours will extend well into the evening, about 11 p.m.

Until those new EMTs are brought on, the chief has ordered existing fire staff to be on standby inside the building so coverage can be available from early morning until last evening.