THERE ARE a few signs of life, but we still don't detect any great sense of urgency in city hall's response to serious deficiencies within the local government's emergency ambulance service. You hear stirrings of change, set forth in official announcements from the fire department; but who comes when you dial 911 -- and how well trained are they? The answer is uncertain, but as a letter to the editor the other day noted, people might well think about taking courses in CPR and basic first aid. With a little effort, in fact, the public might quickly surpass the level of training found in some of the ambulance crews that answer emergency calls -- and be certified and ready for the worst long before the department gets its latest act together.

At a press conference Wednesday, the latest acting head of the emergency ambulance service did note that from now on he will be requiring all emergency medical technicians (the lowest classification of ambulance workers) to have a high school education. This move comes after the failure last week of 14 ambulance workers to pass a national exam that would have certified them as intermediate paramedics. The high school requirement had been dropped, but Assistant Fire Chief Maurice D. Kilby said the 14 failures raised serious questions about the competence of ambulance workers in all categories.

Fine, but as they say in the ambulance business, let's get moving. When can residents be assured that their calls to 911 will produce immediate help, trained and equipped to do what's necessary? The city is still waiting for this absolutely critical assurance -- and it is Mayor Barry's responsibility to make it happen.