First responders’ border-crossing delays raise concerns
Last week, an ambulance transporting a critically ill patient from Windsor, Ontario, to Detroit for emergency heart surgery at Detroit's Henry Ford Hospital was delayed for several minutes while Customs and Border Protection agents conducted a "secondary inspection," during which they required the driver to get out of the vehicle and have his identification papers examined by personnel inside the customs office, while other agents asked the patient to confirm his identity, despite his critical condition.
Canadian officials told the Windsor Star that the ambulance had been given a police escort to the tunnel linking the two countries and that there should have been no delay at the border.
Five days earlier, Quebec firefighters responding to a fire a few miles away at the Anchorage restaurant in Rouses Point, N.Y., were held up for several minutes at the border. That incident prompted Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., to request that Homeland Security establish a pre-clearance system for first responders crossing the border in the line of duty.
"CBP expedites all emergency vehicles as quickly as possible," said agency spokeswoman Lynn Hollinger. Emergency vehicles normally transmit advance passenger information to border agents.
In the case of the Windsor patient being transferred to the Detroit medical facility, no such advance information was provided, she said. "There was no indication the patient needed urgent care," Hollinger said. Still, "the ambulance was cleared in three minutes," she said.
Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, has sent a letter to Homeland Security officials seeking an explanation for the incidents.
Pam Lambo, a spokeswoman at the Canadian embassy in Washington, said a protocol established between the two countries is designed to ensure that first responders are not delayed at the border.