by Rex Pritchard
Long Beach Firefighters President
Big changes have been proposed for emergency medical services in Long Beach, and the impact will be felt by taxpayers waiting for an ambulance. City officials intend to begin an experimental program to split up the two-person paramedic teams that have served Long Beach for decades. This will result in Long Beach residents being subjected to a program studying the effects of further reducing ambulance coverage. The proposal seeks to eliminate two more of Long Beach’s 13 remaining ambulances and cut another 21 firefighter/medics– all on top of the 12 firefighter/medics that were recently cut from Station 8.
Annually answering well over 50,000 emergencies– both medical and fire– the LBFD [Long Beach Fire Department] has continually refined medical responses to provide the most efficient model possible to the Long Beach community. This current “crew-deployed medic” response model is proven to rapidly provide life-saving medics at your front door at a moment’s notice, beginning with a team of four firefighter/medics on a fire engine.
Every Long Beach firefighter is an emergency medical technician– a “medic.” The firefighter/medic dual role allows for rapid response and seamless operations at emergency scenes; firefighter/medics can rapidly treat and assess patients and are also able to enter hazardous environments and render care as a patient is rescued from a burning house or extricated from a car with the Jaws of Life.
For transportation, teams of two advanced life support (ALS) firefighter/medics respond in rescue ambulances to only the most critical emergencies. This team administers medication, interprets complex heart rhythms, establishes a breathing tube, and monitors vital functions, all while contacting a nearby hospital, communicating the orders for vital procedures, and documenting precisely every action taken.
In the emergencies that do not require advanced life support, these “advanced medics” leave the scene and move on to the next critical call while a more basic form of transportation is provided. This built-in flexibility is the true value of the LBFD’s current system– the correct resources are utilized on each and every call. There is no excess in the system, and complete teams are used exactly where they are needed.
This is also where the proposed changes will most significantly affect our community. This experimental program would leave fewer transporting ambulances and ties the “advanced medics” to non-critical ambulances. The experiment will generate budgetary and operational waste by sending advanced medics where they are not needed. Advanced medics will be waiting in extended hospital triage queues and committed on non-critical medical calls while truly critical patients will be relying on two separate additional LBFD units being close enough to help. In some cases, the response of a fire engine, a ladder truck, and an ambulance will be required to medical emergencies just to meet minimum response criteria.
This change in medic response was dictated in the LBFD’s budget by city officials who exhibit very little understanding of how this change would affect service. It leaves Long Beach with fewer ambulances and fewer firefighters on the streets, and the citizens who need firefighter/medics in the most critical moments of their lives will be the ones who pay the price.
As the world changes, Long Beach firefighter/medics continue to adapt and advance. But the proposal to dismantle advanced life support teams represents another tremendous step backwards for the City of Long Beach and its citizens.