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Claremont, County Fail to Agree on Paramedics

Times Staff Writer

City officials met with county Supervisor Pete Schabarum this week in an effort to resolve a long-standing controversy over paramedic service.

Staff members from the city and Los Angeles County plan to meet again next Thursday, but the two sides remain far from agreement.

“We all agreed to go back and talk some more, so that was constructive,” said City Manager Glenn Southard. “There was no clear consensus reached. . . . I think, from our standpoint, we’re still looking to an immediate solution to our paramedic problem.”

At issue is the response time of Los Angeles County Fire Department paramedics, stationed in San Dimas and Glendora, to medical emergencies in Claremont. The response times of the various paramedic units average between 10.5 and 15.4 minutes, according to a study by the county Department of Emergency Medical Services.

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The county Fire Department seeks an average response time of 10 minutes or less for all calls in the 47 cities it serves. However, city officials said Claremont is receiving inferior service compared to other cities in the county Fire Protection District.

To cut response times, city officials have called on the county to locate a paramedic unit in Claremont. County officials have said they will do so only if Claremont kicks in an additional $79,000 a year from its redevelopment coffers. The city rejected the proposal.

“Pete’s position is that Claremont’s fire services cost more than what the county is receiving,” said Judy Hammond, Schabarum’s press deputy. “They can’t get something for nothing.”

After a 16-month stand-off, the city contracted with Medic-1 Ambulance Service, a private ambulance company in San Dimas, to provide paramedic service in Claremont. But fire officials balked at the arrangement, citing the department’s policy that fire protection and paramedic service are a package deal--a city cannot receive one without the other.

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Claremont officials say the county is treating them unfairly.

“It’s really disappointing to me that our supervisor won’t support us,” Mayor Judy Wright said. “It’s kind of a David and Goliath story. Here we are trying to do our best for our citizens, and we can’t get the support of the big fire department.”

The county Emergency Medical Services Commission entered the fray last week and sided with the city. The commission voted, 8-1, to recommend that the Board of Supervisors permit Claremont to use a private ambulance service.

“They were real champions,” Wright said. “It was just like butting our heads against a wall until we went to that commission . . ., (but) I’m not encouraged by how the commission’s recommendation will fare at the Board of Supervisors.”

Wright questioned Schabarum’s opposition to permitting Medic-1 to provide paramedic service to Claremont in light of his support for privatizing bus service in the county. “If he really believes that privatization is the way for government to go, why doesn’t he believe in it for paramedics?” she said.

However, the mayor said the privatization proposal is merely a stopgap measure to provide quicker paramedic response. The city would prefer to receive county paramedic service from a unit based in Claremont, but officials don’t want to spend the tax dollars until they see exactly what they are getting for their money.

So far, the county has not provided the city with adequate financial information, Wright said. The City Council voted Tuesday night to hire a financial analyst to determine the cost to the county of providing fire and paramedic service to Claremont.

The mayor said she remains hopeful that Claremont and the county can reach an accord. One reason for her optimism is new County Fire Chief P. Michael Freeman, who took over the post Feb. 13. Wright, who had negotiated with several deputy chiefs, said Freeman’s dealings with the city have been “a breath of fresh air.”

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Specifically, Wright said Freeman appears willing to consider a city proposal to provide the $79,000 in annual tax revenue to pay for an additional paramedic unit for one or two years. During this time, the city could work out a long-term plan for fire and paramedic service, either with the county or with a neighboring city that has its own fire department.

But whatever the long-term solution, Claremont officials say, the city’s paramedic problem demands some type of immediate response.

“We’ve got to get something in place,” Southard said. “If we can’t privatize and if we can’t get the county to provide greater service, we’ll have to look at all our options. I don’t think our residents should tolerate a response time of . . . up to 18 minutes. So, we have to figure out something.”


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