Shift in Paramedic Staffing Put Off Until After Convention

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A controversial pilot program that would staff ambulances with one paramedic and one emergency medical technician instead of two paramedics has been delayed until late September because of the Democratic National Convention, fire officials said Friday.

The convention will draw thousands of politicians, delegates, protesters and news media staffers to Staples Center, dozens of hotels and 200 related events around Southern California. Law enforcement and fire officials are beefing up staffing to handle emergencies or a reprise of last fall's World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle.

"This is like a snowball going downhill; it just keeps getting bigger," said Los Angeles Fire Chief William Bamattre. "It could be a burp like Y2K, or it could be like what happened in Seattle."

The pilot program, which was supposed to begin next month, would eliminate two-paramedic ambulances. One of the paramedics would be replaced by an emergency medical technician.

The plan also calls for assigning a paramedic to firetrucks so the trucks could respond to medical emergencies. The Fire Department has backed the concept as a way of reducing the average paramedic response time in the San Fernando Valley by about 1 1/2 minutes.

Fire Battalion Chief Daryl Arbuthnott said that staffing plans for the convention have not been finalized, but that he expects up to five engine companies and 10 ambulances to be assigned that duty, with all of the personnel on overtime. Some fire inspectors also may work on engines, he said.

But Ken Buzzell, president of United Firefighters of Los Angeles City, the union representing about 2,750 fire personnel, said the Valley "one-plus-one" project is not being postponed just because of the convention, but also because of a lack of paramedics.

Union labor agreements on the program still need to be hashed out over transfers, vacations, schedules, personal paramedic liability and overtime, he said.

Since it was proposed, the one-paramedic concept has been blasted by residents, the firefighters union and associations representing paramedics, who say it will hurt the quality of care.

"The paramedics association is dead set against it," said Capt. Erick Lauridsen, a paramedic field supervisor for the eastern half of the Valley and vice president of the Los Angeles Paramedics Assn. "They will mix one EMT who has about 100 hours of training with one paramedic who has over 1,000 hours of training. They are dropping the skill level you will receive."

Arbuthnott said that while he understands those concerns, "it's better to have one paramedic there sooner, rather than having two arrive later." More than 75% of the Fire Department's calls are for medical emergencies, he said.

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