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Panel Puts Off Vote on Plans to Add Valley Paramedics

May 08, 1999|AGNES DIGGS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A proposal to improve paramedic response time in the San Fernando Valley was brushed aside at a Los Angeles City Council committee hearing Friday, over the objections of council members Laura Chick and Michael Feuer.

As a pilot project, the city Fire Department has asked for $2 million to assign one paramedic to every fire engine and ambulance. The program would be tested in the Valley before being implemented citywide.

In a separate proposal, the Fire Department asked the city to hire up to six additional paramedics to be stationed with helicopter crews at its Van Nuys Flight Operations Center.

But City Councilman Richard Alatorre, chairman of the council's Ad Hoc Budget Committee, refused to put either proposal to a vote Friday.

The department presented no estimate for the cost of adding the six paramedics to the flight center, he noted, and failed to present a detailed plan for adding paramedics to the engine and ambulance crews.

"Bring me something to deal with," Alatorre said, "I agree we need more paramedics, but bring us a plan."

Fire authorities still have to resolve several issues before any plan can go forward, including work-rule changes, union negotiations and personnel issues of how paramedics will work with their firefighting partners.

Chick argued that the plan should move forward because the Valley has the slowest paramedic response time in the city.

"I don't have all the answers to how we're going to do this--I just know we have to," she said.

Mark Eckstein, the Fire Department's medical director, also backed the plan.

"There are no paramedics in the Northridge district. In an emergency, a paramedic would have to come from Winnetka or Tarzana," he said.

Eckstein also supported the plan to assign paramedics to the department's helicopter base. The flight operations center currently takes paramedics away from Valley fire stations for helicopter flights.

"The helicopter's ready, the pilot's ready, the crew's ready, but they have to wait for a paramedic," Eckstein said.

Feuer expressed concern that a tragedy might occur if paramedics are in the air and an accident occurs on the ground in their assigned area.

"I want to make sure that we are galloping as fast as we can to get this changed," he said.

The Los Angeles Fire Department operates the second-largest emergency medical service in the U.S. Medical incidents comprise more than 70% of the Fire Department's workload.

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