PHOENIX (AP) — The Phoenix Fire Department often uses — and pays for — taxi cab rides to take people who've called 911 to a hospital if the responding fire crew decides the situation doesn't warrant an ambulance.

The number of taxi rides has grown — overwhelmingly so for people in poor neighborhoods — as fire officials wrestle with more calls and limited resources, the Arizona Republic reported Thursday.

Frank Piccioli, president of the Phoenix dispatchers' labor union, said there are reports of some people having had to wait too long for cab rides. People sometimes call dispatch multiple times while waiting for their taxi to the hospital, Piccioli said.

"I understand that the purpose of it is to get the crews back on the road as quick as possible, for minor incidents," Piccioli said. "(But) while it may alleviate crews from the call, the dispatch center — which is severely understaffed — continuously has this call. Because that customer still needs assistance, still needs transportation, and sometimes the situation may worsen."

Phoenix Fire Executive Assistant Chief Mark Angle said they can't afford to send an ambulance to every call because of the limited number of resources.

"A lot of times these people are (in) need of something outside of what our definition is, of what we are, which is providing emergency care and treatment in the streets, in the home or anywhere wherever," Angle said. "And so we've been left to kind of figure that out."

Aside for the wait times, critics also said the program might be overused and inappropriate for some patients.

The rides are a part of the city's taxi-voucher program. The vouchers are paid for by the city and cost a fraction of an ambulance ride.

Fire officials said it is often used for poor people who call because they don't have any means of medical treatment besides 911. The officials said the program saves individuals in non-emergency conditions from an expensive ambulance ride and frees fire crews for more life-threatening situations.

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Information from: The Arizona Republic, http://www.azcentral.com