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Stationing Paramedics in Calabasas Gets Study

November 20, 1986|BOB POOL | Times Staff Writer

The death of a Calabasas Park choking victim has prompted Los Angeles County Fire Department officials to consider assigning paramedics to a Calabasas fire station for the first time.

Department administrators are reviewing the need for medically trained specialists at Engine Co. 68, on Calabasas Road at Parkway Calabasas, officials said Wednesday.

The need could become acute in January when state highway workers begin widening a Ventura Freeway bottleneck in Woodland Hills, according to the Fire Department.

State Department of Transportation planners have warned that the widening could cause traffic jams on Calabasas Grade. Such tie-ups would delay paramedics rushing to Calabasas from their regular base on Las Virgenes Road, at the Calabasas-Agoura border, officials said.

Fire Department guidelines require a maximum eight-minute paramedic response--the length of time it takes paramedics in Rescue Squad 125 to travel to parts of Calabasas under normal traffic conditions, fire officials say.

County records show it took eight minutes for paramedics to reach marketing researcher Susan Becker, 25, who choked while eating pizza at lunch Oct. 11 at her Calabasas Park office.

Although co-workers applied the Heimlich anti-choking maneuver and cardiopulmonary resuscitation until firemen from Engine Co. 68 arrived, Becker later died.

"We felt very secure, knowing that the fire station was only two blocks from our office," her boss, marketing company president Carol T. Davis, said Wednesday. "The firemen got here in no time at all. But they weren't paramedics, and they did the same things we did."

Davis said freeway traffic already is often bumper-to-bumper at the Calabasas Grade, and that there is no bypass road that Squad 125 paramedics can use to reach Calabasas Park.

Wendy Brockman, a neighborhood leader in Calabasas' Mulwood area, said residents appealed last Friday to county officials for paramedics for Engine Co. 68, and that Supervisor Mike Antonovich quickly promised an investigation.

County Fire Department spokesman Gordon Pearson said Wednesday that it would cost $450,000 a year to add a completely equipped two-man rescue squad to Engine Co. 68. But he said lone paramedics with a minimum amount of medical equipment can be assigned there at minor cost to the budget-strapped department.

The paramedic would be assisted on rescues by regular firemen, who are all trained as emergency technicians, he said.

Pearson said that about 800 of the county's 2,000 firefighters are now certified to do paramedic work such as giving injections, electric heart defibrillation and intubation--the tube-in-the-throat technique eventually used by paramedics on Becker.

Los Angeles City Fire Dept. officials, meantime, said Wednesday that they would be willing to discuss a mutual-aid agreement with the county to provide backup paramedic service to Calabasas. The city has a paramedic unit based in neighboring Woodland Hills.

Alan Cowen, assistant bureau commander for emergency medical services with the city Fire Department, said similar mutual-aid pacts exist between his agency and the cities of Beverly Hills and Santa Monica.

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