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Panel Opposes Cutback in Paramedic Staffing

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Los Angeles Fire Department should maintain its current staffing schedule for paramedic supervisors even though it will cost the city almost $250,000 in overtime pay between now and July, a city panel has recommended.

The recommendation, which reversed an earlier proposal by fire officials, was made Friday during a special joint meeting of the City Council’s Public Safety and Personnel committees.

“It became very clear that with the number of calls for emergency service increasing, it didn’t make sense for us to decrease the oversight of experts in that area of the department,” said Councilwoman Laura Chick, chairwoman of the Public Safety Committee.

The Fire Department currently employs 17 paramedic captains throughout its six districts. Like many emergency workers, the captains work 56 hours per week, including overnight shifts.

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Until recently, the captains, like firefighters, were considered exempt from federal laws that require employers to pay overtime to employees who work more than 40 hours.

But in November, based on recent court rulings, the city attorney said that the supervisors were probably not exempt from the law. That finding led to a proposal to trim the supervisors’ hours, a move that would have saved the department between $1 million and $1.5 million annually out of its $250-million budget.

Fire Chief William Bamattre said he agreed with the recommendation but will now have to look for other ways to make up his department’s expected budget shortfall.

“Emergency medical services are no less important than fire prevention or disaster preparedness,” Bamattre said. “My dilemma is to manage a budget shortfall and to do it equitably across the board.”

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Friday’s recommendation would restore the supervisors’ overtime pay, totaling $241,000, through the end of the fiscal year, July 1. It must pass through the Budget Committee before it is considered by the council.

Deputy Fire Chief Alan Cowen, who previously headed the department’s now-defunct Emergency Medical Bureau, said that reducing the staffing of supervisors would open the city up to liability in medical malpractice cases and reduce the quality of services provided to the public.

“We need around-the-clock supervision all of the time. We need more supervision, not less,” Cowen said.


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