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Citizens Group Starts Drive for Fire Station Paramedics : Emergency care: The organization says it wants to augment service by Pruner Ambulance Co., not drive the firm out of business.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A citizens group is circulating a petition to try to force the Ventura County Board of Supervisors to start a paramedic program in county fire stations, group leaders announced Thursday.

“The primary purpose of the Fire Department is to save lives, so why don’t we let them do it?” said Billie Myers, an organizer of the recently formed Fire Service Residents of Ventura County.

Thirteen firefighters at county fire stations are paramedics, but they are not certified to apply the lifesaving techniques that they have learned, Deputy Chief Bob Crim said. However, nearly all of the county’s 370 firefighters are trained emergency medical technicians who can apply basic life support, such as supplying oxygen. Paramedics can dispense medication and work directly with doctors.

“We are going to circulate petitions to our officials, start a letter-writing campaign, make phone calls, whatever it takes,” Myers said. “We’ve got everything to gain and nothing to lose.”

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The group--which includes firefighters and paramedics who live in the county but work elsewhere--announced their plans at a news conference at Myers’ Simi Valley home. About 25 people attended.

Although they have complaints about the quality of service provided by Pruner Ambulance Co., group members said it is not their intent to drive Pruner out of business but rather to augment its service. Pruner holds a contract with the county to provide emergency service throughout the region.

Steve Murphy, chief administrator of Pruner, said additional paramedic service is not needed. He said the county would simply be wasting money to duplicate existing service.

“We have adequate service now,” he said.

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But Simi Valley resident Scott Gould, a member of the citizens group and a certified paramedic, said many of Pruner’s paramedics are inexperienced and are assisted only by emergency medical technicians.

“We want at least one firefighter in strategically located engine companies throughout the county trained as paramedics,” said Gould, who would not name his employer. “All we want to do is enhance the service that we are presently getting.”

Myers and other group members said they have relatives with heart conditions or other serious health problems and want to be sure that prompt and adequate emergency services are available.

“I’m the wife of a man who has had a six-way heart bypass, so I’m concerned,” Myers said, adding that many county residents are unaware that the county Fire Department does not have a paramedic program.

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Murphy said Pruner employs 33 paramedics and 40 medical technicians to man its seven ambulance stations countywide. And the company recently spent about $75,000 to update emergency equipment in its Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks stations, he said.

The firefighters are “just trying to create a need” for more paramedic service, Murphy said, noting that firefighters trained as paramedics are paid 10% to 15% more than other firefighters.

Still, Murphy said the county’s emergency response system can be improved. He said firefighters should be equipped to perform advanced life support procedures, such as electroshock treatment for someone who has suffered cardiac arrest. They would have to be trained to perform the procedure but would not have to be paramedics, Crim said.

County fire officials said the Board of Supervisors has budgeted $250,000 to purchase 43 defibrillators. The equipment is expected to be in use by early next year, but training and liability are still being discussed, Crim said.

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He said the department has not taken a position on the paramedic issue. County residents are the ones who must decide whether the service that they are receiving is adequate, he said.

An official with the county agency that monitors emergency calls said that Pruner meets all state guidelines for response time.

The only complaints that have been received about the company concern its rates, which are about the same as those charged by the other two ambulance companies in the county, said Barbara Brodfuehrer. There is an ambulance company in Oxnard and another in Ojai.

So far, only Moorpark is considering paying the Fire Department to provide paramedic service as part of a one-year pilot program. The City Council has received numerous complaints from residents about slow responses from Pruner, and members said Wednesday that they are inclined to pay $110,000 to place firefighter paramedics in the city’s two fire stations.

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Linda White, an aide to Supervisor Vicky Howard, who represents the Moorpark and Simi Valley area, said the supervisor wants more time to consider all the information before taking a position on the paramedic issue.

Supervisor Maria VanderKolk, whose district includes other parts of the east county where a majority of Pruner stations are located, was unavailable for comment.


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