Oceanside Completes Medical System Merger

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Oceanside rolled out its fleet of fire and emergency vehicles Monday to celebrate the completion of a public-private emergency medical system that has reduced response times and cost.

Fortunately, there were no holocausts or earthquakes while city fire officials and Hartson higher-ups were showing off their fleet of yellow "medic engines" and red-and-white ambulances at a news conference in Buddy Todd Park.

Two years ago, Oceanside City Council members approved the public-private marriage, which melds Hartson Medical Services and the Oceanside Fire Department into a single team to respond to medical emergencies.

City fire dispatchers handle all "9-1-1" emergency calls, dispatching a fire engine carrying two firefighter/paramedics. At the same time, dispatchers alert a Hartson ambulance, which will respond with emergency medical technicians, who have a lower level of medical training than paramedics. If the victim's condition requires it, the paramedics remain with the ambulance as it delivers the victim to a hospital. If not, the paramedics return to their fire station duties with the rest of the engine crew.

"The primary benefit of this program is that it provides advanced life support much faster," said Oceanside Fire Chief James L. Rankin. "Also, this arrangement means Oceanside citizens pay less for emergency medical services."

Bills for the emergency ambulance service dropped from an average of $315 to about $220, he said, because, under the city contract, it can control costs, setting charges at the rate equal to city-provided ambulance service.

Paramedic response times, which previously ranged up to 20 minutes in outlying city areas such as Morro Hills and Leisure Hills, have been cut by about 50% under the joint program, Rankin said.

"Our goal is to cut that (paramedic) response time down to four to six minutes," he said. Placing the paramedics aboard the fire engine--usually closer to the scene and the first to arrive--will aid in meeting the goal, he said.

Now, with the program fully operational, four of Oceanside's five fire stations have two-man firefighter/paramedic teams on duty at all times. Three former city paramedic ambulances leased to Hartson have been refurbished and repainted and are operated by Hartson EMT teams to provide transport.

Rankin said an average of 20 fire and emergency calls are received in Oceanside daily, 16 of which are actual medical emergencies.

Before the joint program went into effect, city-staffed ambulances responded to medical emergency calls, Rankin said. But at times, the city had to call in private ambulances when all city crews had been dispatched. Since the joint program began in July 1988, all medical emergencies have been handled by the city/Hartson system, he said.

In March, a fifth fire engine with a trained paramedic team will go into service, Rankin said. It will be stationed at the downtown fire station, 714 3rd St. The two paramedic-staffed fire trucks at the main station are expected to handle about 50% of the medical emergency calls in the city.

Hartson also provides full paramedic/emergency medical transportation services for the city of San Diego under a four-year, $9.6-million contract.

That contract limits Hartson to a charge not to exceed an average of $267 per ambulance call.

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