EMTs to become city employees

DOWNEY - After years of contracting outside personnel as ambulance operators, the Downey Fire Department will transition the service "in house" this year, hiring new employees to operate emergency transport vehicles. City officials say the resolution, approved unanimously by the Downey City Council on Tuesday, will bring more efficiency to the fire department's new model for emergency medical services delivery.

"This has always been a priority in my administration," said Fire Chief Lonnie Croom before the vote. "Strategically, it puts us in a much better place."

The decision comes amidst tense relations between the city and the Downey Firemen's Association, which began a petition last year to change the city charter to prevent Downey from hiring outside EMTs and jailers.

Mayor Mario Guerra, however, maintains that the decision to make ambulance operators city employees was not motivated by any third party.

"I think this is important. It's what makes sense operationally for our city," said Guerra. "The number one thing is we're doing it because it's the right thing -- not because of any legal obligation." City Attorney Yvette Abich Garcia echoed Guerra's statements, ensuring residents the city was making the change willingly.

"When I first began in 2010, one of my first assignments was to explore the opportunities to bring the operators in house," she said. "We are under no compulsion to do this."

According to a staff report, new ambulance operators for the city will be required to maintain certification as EMTs in order to provide basic medical care while transporting ill and injured patients to local hospitals.

Formerly, the city contracted with 1st PMF Bancorp for EMT personnel.

Based on a review of other southern California agencies with similar emergency transport models, the hourly pay for city ambulance operators will range from $9.09 to $11.27.

Guerra acknowledged that the Downey Police also weighed the option to bring its jailers in house, but the cost to the city was significantly higher to staff as opposed to contracting out.

Croom said staff funding for the new ambulance operator positions was already included in the Downey Fire Department's 2013-14 fiscal year budget.

"Financially, it's a good option," he said. "This is an operational decision, not political."

********** Published: Aug. 29, 2013 - Volume 12 - Issue 20