CLAREMONT — City officials have grown impatient waiting for Los Angeles County Fire Department paramedics to respond more quickly to emergencies in their city and have asked a county commission for permission to replace the service with a private firm.
Last month, the city reached an agreement with Medic-1, a San Dimas-based ambulance company, to provide paramedic service. Medic-1 already provides ambulance service to the city from a station in central Claremont.
Refusal to Authorize
However, the Los Angeles County Fire Department has refused to authorize the firm to provide paramedic care. Without such authorization, the county Department of Health Services will not allow Claremont to contract for emergency medical services.
Deputy Fire Chief Jim Hunt said the department provides firefighting and paramedic services in tandem to the 47 cities that belong to the county Fire Protection District.
"You either take all of our service or none of it," Hunt said. "We don't want to alter the way we provide our service. If we let one city do something different, pretty soon 47 cities are doing something different."
In addition to organizational problems, Hunt said a private ambulance service would be much more costly for patients, some of whom may not be adequately insured. City officials have said they don't believe this will be as serious a problem as the current trouble with response times.
Last week, the city appealed to the Emergency Medical Services Commission, an advisory board that oversees paramedic operations in the county. After hearing more than two hours of testimony Wednesday, the commission directed the Department of Health Services to look into Claremont's complaints and report back March 15.
"We're hoping that the commission recognizes that we have unsafe response times," City Manager Glenn Southard said.
For more than a year, city officials have complained that Claremont receives substandard paramedic service because it is the only city in the eastern San Gabriel Valley besides Irwindale that does not have a paramedic unit based within its city limits.
When paramedics are needed in Claremont, they must be summoned from San Dimas or Glendora. In one 1987 incident that touched off officials' anger over the situation, it took a paramedic unit 28 minutes to reach a Claremont resident who had suffered a heart attack. The patient later died.
"We're just furious that we can't get the service we deserve," Southard said.
According to the Los Angeles County Fire Department's most recent figures, the average response time for paramedics called to Claremont was between 10 and 11 minutes, Hunt said. During particularly busy periods, the response time may be as great as 20 minutes, he said.
Although these response times exceed the Fire Department's 10-minute goal, Claremont does not receive poorer service than most cities in the district.
"There's no doubt that there are 15- to 20-minute response times, but what we're telling (Claremont officials) is, 'This is not just happening in your city,' " Hunt said. "Their contention that they're not receiving (service that is as good as)some other areas is accurate. If you live next door to a fire station, you're going to get better service than if you live 10 blocks away."
That reply, however, does not satisfy Claremont officials.
"We really can't believe that other areas are having, 13-, 14-, 15-minute response times," Assistant City Manager Bridget Distelrath said. "If they are, this is a much bigger issue than just Claremont."
The fire district is willing to provide Claremont with its own paramedic unit, Hunt said, but the asking price is $79,000 a year in tax-increment revenue from the city's Foothill Redevelopment Area. However, the city could receive a $1-million credit against the additional cost if it paid for the construction of a new fire station.
Once the city had used up its $1-million credit, it would owe the district $79,000 a year until 2017. According to a city report, the ultimate cost to Claremont of such an arrangement would exceed $5.1 million.
"It is negotiable, but I think that $5 million to receive a service that other cities are already receiving is prohibitive," Distelrath said. "The Medic-1 proposal would cost the city nothing and cost the county nothing."