Downey adds 4 paramedics

DOWNEY - The year is 1986. Hoping to accommodate the city's growing population, the Downey Fire Department changed its emergency medical services model to incorporate four engine companies, two paramedic squads, and one fire truck in service every day.

Twenty-seven years later, with emergency responses climbing towards 10,000 every year, Downey Fire still utilizes the same number of fire engines, paramedic squads, and trucks - every day.

Realizing the current EMS model's insufficiencies, the city council last Wednesday unanimously approved a plan to reconfigure the fire department's emergency apparatus while doubling the amount of on-duty paramedics at each fire station.

According to city officials, the current emergency medical services delivery model is at capacity. While medical responses in surrounding cities typically average 2,600 annually, Downey emergency calls continue to escalate.

From 4,600 emergency responses in 1986, the fire department now responds to nearly 9,400 incidents that almost always require emergency transportation.

Although 84 percent of the department's responses require transport to a local hospital, the city currently maintains only one basic life support (BLS) ambulance.

Demand is high for local transports, but the city's existing model doesn't provide nearly enough ambulances, causing the city to lose revenue from missed transports.

Under the proposed delivery model, Downey Fire will equip three BLS ambulances every day, allowing sufficient availability for transports to local hospitals, mainly Downey Regional Medical Center and Kaiser Permanente Medical Center.

In order to better respond to the need for more medical services, the department will also eliminate the usage of paramedic squads in favor of four paramedic engine companies throughout the city.

City officials also agreed to increase the amount of daily, on-duty paramedics from four to eight. The city will continue to have 21 firefighters on-duty every day.

The model changes come amidst fire union protests that switching to L.A. county fire service, which focuses on a regional approach to emergency service, would better serve the Downey community.

Last month, councilmembers unanimously agreed that the city's needs did not fit the county fire regional mold, which would staff less firefighters at Downey stations, relying on county stations in surrounding cities.

City officials vowed to keep the current local approach and tweak it to absorb the growing number of emergency calls.

Fire Chief Lonnie Croom projects the new changes will cost roughly $778,000, but due to revenues from increased medical transports, the city will net $300,000 next fiscal year.

Mayor Mario Guerra applauded Croom, City Manager Gilbert Livas, and city staff for finding an "innovative, sustainable way" to revamp the fire department's public safety model.

"This proposed service model will double our paramedic units and enhance revenue at the same time. There will now be two paramedics on every fire engine in the city of Downey," Guerra said. "We take great pride in having our own fire department and want to continue providing our residents with the highest level of service."

********** Published: June 13, 2013 - Volume 12 - Issue 09