As the turf war between Ada County EMS and the fire departments heats up again, it would be appropriate for the fire departments to take stock of their evolving role as providers of essential services.
Under a well intended plan to get medical aid quickly to those in need, three firefighters aboard a $275,000 fire truck respond along with an ambulance on most emergency medical calls. Costly, inefficient, and cause for endless “code 3” responses all over town as one station responds to cover for those not available.
Since fully 70% of all calls are for medical assistance, it seems wasteful to send 100% of the aid in the form of a truck loaded with hose, ladders, and pumps. The fire departments need to be staffed–and equipped–for firefighting, but that duty comprises merely 30% of their actual responses.
The GUARDIAN thinks local fire departments need to rethink their equipment investments. We think in the city of Boise for example, they could purchase 5 medical vans for the cost of a single fire engine. With the capability of transporting patients if needed, these quick response or “squad” cars could supplement the ambulance service in the event of disasters, save wear and tear on pumper trucks, and provide efficient medical service to residents. They could also eliminate the need for county ambulance service within the city.
We figure staffing levels could be increased by 15 firefighters to provide paramedic/firefighter coverage at five stations and cover all shifts. One member of the three-man crew from the pumper could be assigned to the medical response unit, freeing the pumper from responding to medical calls, thus eliminating 70% of the wear and tear on a truck designed to fight fires.
Instead of having a truck with three guys respond to 70% of the alarms (medical) it makes more sense to have the cheaper medical van respond to ALL calls with two firefighters (one would also be a paramedic). That way, the fire truck is not overworked, and if there is an actual fire both the medical van and fire truck respond, which places four people on scene at the outset.
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