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ORANGE COUNTY VOICES

County Fire Authority Is Fit, Not Fat

March 30, 1997|MAX R. SCHULMAN | Max R. Schulman is an engineer who has worked in private and municipal emergency medical services and is a consultant to several domestic and foreign governmental agencies in fire protection and life safety. He writes from Buena Park

For those served by the Orange County Fire Authority, the following "facts" are provided in response to Byron de Arakal's March 16 Orange County Voices article. He stated that the department was oversized, overstaffed and overpaid--claims that reflect a total lack of knowledge of the fire service and its mission.

The number of fire stations required to serve given geographic areas, the types of apparatus in each station and the minimum staffing are established by national codes and standards. There is "no fat" in the OCFA operations when evaluated against regulatory criteria.

The OCFA front line is made up of 52 paid and nine volunteer engine companies, 13 career truck (ladder/rescue) companies, seven career paramedic/rescue vans and one career hazardous materials unit. The apparatus is quartered in 61 strategically located fire stations. Crews of 13 of the engine companies include two firefighter paramedics; 16 of the remaining career engine companies and three of the truck companies are assessment units (one firefighter paramedic per crew), and the seven vans carry a two-firefighter paramedic crew. Were there no paramedic services provided, the present manning would not change, as the persons are first and foremost firefighters.

With regard to staffing, the OCFA suppression force is actually below minimums and is comprised of 756 paid and 728 volunteer firefighters. Overpaid certainly cannot be used to describe OCFA employees, whose salaries at best are at the median or below those of other fire departments in the county.

Why is paramedic and emergency medical transportation service provided by the fire department more desirable than that proposed by private firms?

* No staffing reduction would result since the OCFA firefighter levels are at or below minimums.

* There would be no additional costs to the taxpayers, as cost recovery would come from the same sources that presently pay the private operators.

* Fire service ambulances are "dedicated," which means units are always available within established response districts. Private operators cannot and will not provide "dedicated" units without a massive taxpayer subsidy, and without same can only offer to provide the closest available unit.

* Private ambulance crews do not regularly include a paramedic; to do so would increase their operating costs and resulting fees; nor do they offer offer firefighter skills.

* Governmental agencies are "nonprofit" corporations dedicated to legally prescribed service mandates. Private ambulance firms are "for-profit" enterprises interested in the bottom line.

The books, plans and all factors of the OCFA operation are open to public inspection. Private ambulance firms do not offer the same courtesy.

Max R. Schulman is an engineer who has worked in private and municipal emergency medical services and is a consultant to several domestic and foreign governmental agencies in fire protection and life safety. He writes from Buena Park.

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