Flier Criticizes Plan to Split Up Paramedics

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A citizens group has expanded its campaign against a controversial plan to reorganize paramedics services, raising money for a mailer that suggests the San Fernando Valley would suffer.

The plan, drawn up by the Los Angeles Fire Department and endorsed by county health officials, would staff ambulances with one paramedic and one emergency medical technician. The proposal would split up paramedic teams that now operate in pairs.

The Fire Department said the plan will offset a paramedic shortage and improve response times--by about 1 1/2 minutes in the Valley--because paramedics in either ambulances or fire engines will be available to respond to emergency medical calls.

But several homeowner groups are not impressed.

"It makes no sense," said Harold Tennen, vice president of the Glenridge Homeowners Assn. near Beverly Glen Boulevard and Mulholland Drive. "I've spoken to hundreds of paramedics. The chief wants to save a minute. You can't count on that for a minute."

Tennen heads the Citizens Committee to Stop the Chief's 1 + 1 Plan, which claims citywide membership of homeowner associations from Benedict Canyon, Sherman Oaks, Benedict Hills, Glenridge and Beverly Glen and which pooled $25,000 to oppose the plan.

The first set of fliers will be sent early next week to about 8,000 residents in those homeowner groups. One is headlined "Don't Have a Heart Attack in the Valley."

"Splitting up paramedics creates the illusion of more paramedic resources," the flier states. "More ambulances with paramedics are needed!"

Los Angeles Fire Battalion Chief Daryl Arbuthnott said there is no quick solution to the department's paramedic shortage and the pilot project is needed.

"It won't impact the public as it is being portrayed," he said. "It's more of an internal problem about getting staffing up."

The department is currently struggling with 51 paramedic vacancies, resulting in grueling overtime shifts and high burnout for those remaining on the staff. Low morale led to last year's decision by 22 firefighters to stop working as paramedics, said Capt. Robert Linnell, president of the Los Angeles Paramedic Assn.

"That shows a crisis," said Linnell. "Something is wrong. Firefighters don't want to be paramedics anymore."

The Los Angeles Paramedic Assn., and rank-and-file paramedics, have decried the plan since it was proposed last year because they say it would dilute emergency medical care. Paramedics undergo more than 1,000 hours of medical training, can provide advance life support, administer intravenous medication and perform other procedures. Emergency medical technicians, or EMTs, receive about 100 hours of training and can provide basic first aid, cardiopulmonary resuscitation and defibrillation.

Arbuthnott said the county Department of Health Services has blessed the proposal and will monitor its progress or problems. If the pilot Valley project is successful, the Fire Department said it will consider expanding the system citywide.

The one-plus-one program was to begin this month in the Valley, but Fire Chief William Bamattre postponed it until the end of September because of the need for beefed-up staffing for next month's Democratic National Convention.

The Fire Department brass remains firm about why it postponed the program, but others think the paramedic shortage is a factor.

"It's not just the DNC," Linnell said. "We need 177 paramedic positions to do one-plus-one for the Valley. We're short 25. Now they're caught."

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