A county panel that oversees emergency medical services approved a controversial plan Wednesday to reorganize paramedics in the San Fernando Valley.
The plan, pushed by Los Angeles Fire Chief William Bamattre in an effort to reduce emergency response times in the far-flung Valley, sparked opposition from many paramedics and other medical experts, who said it would harm patient care by watering down the expertise of the caregivers. Under a county rule, paramedics who staff advanced life support ambulances must work in pairs.
Opponents, including the firefighters' union and a professional organization of city paramedics, vowed to resist the plan.
"I'm disappointed," said Fire Capt. Robert Linnell, head of the Los Angeles Paramedics Assn. "But we've just begun to fight. This is only one skirmish."
Bamattre's $2.6-million plan would split up the units for a one-year trial in the Valley, staffing ambulances with one paramedic and one emergency medical technician, who receives one-tenth the medical training of paramedics.
Fire Department officials said the change could shave up to two minutes off the eight minutes and four seconds it typically takes the first paramedic unit to arrive on scene.
"I'm very pleased," Bamattre said after the Emergency Medical Services Commission overwhelmingly approved the plan. "Everyone recognized that if you don't evaluate the merits of a potential change, how will you ever know if you should move forward? This was a vote for the opportunity . . . to study this program."
The City Council has yet to approve funding for the initiative, and such a change in county policy must be approved by the Board of Supervisors. The Fire Department hopes to launch the program in July.