A controversial pilot program that would staff ambulances with one paramedic and one emergency medical technician has been delayed until late September because of the Democratic National Convention, fire officials said Friday.
The convention in August will draw thousands of politicians, delegates, media and protesters to the Staples Center, dozens of hotels and 200 related events around the Southland. Law enforcement and fire officials are beefing up staffing to handle emergencies or a repeat of the raucous protests that accompanied 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."
To ensure adequate emergency response, the Fire Department needs to have enough staffing available and decided to postpone its "one-plus-one" project in the San Fernando Valley, Bamattre said.
The pilot program, which was scheduled to begin next month, would have eliminated two-paramedic ambulances. Instead, an ambulance would be staffed with one paramedic and one emergency medical technician.
The plan also calls for assigning paramedics to firetrucks, allowing the trucks to respond to medical emergencies. The Fire Department has backed the concept as a way to address a severe shortage of paramedics and to reduce the Valley's response time by about 1 1/2 minutes.
Paramedics receive about 1,200 hours of medical training, can provide advanced life support and administer intravenous medication, provide advance airway management for patients unable to breathe on their own and monitor the heart to treat potentially fatal cardiac dysrhythmias.
EMTs receive 120 hours of training and are capable of providing basic first aid, cardiopulmonary resuscitation and defibrillation.
Los Angeles Fire Battalion Chief Daryl Arbuthnott said staffing plans for the convention are not final, but he anticipates up to five engine companies and 10 ambulances will be assigned that duty, with all personnel on overtime. Some fire inspectors also may work on engines, he said.
But Ken Buzzell, president of the United Firefighters of Los Angeles City, the union representing about 2,750 fire personnel, said the postponement of the Valley one-plus-one project is not just because of the convention, but also because of a lack of paramedics.
Union labor agreements about 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/one EMT 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 San Fernando 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, although 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.
However, that workload and the lower status of the job "makes them the water boys of the department," Lauridsen said.
This year, just two firefighters volunteered for paramedic training, the lowest number he's seen for recruitment within the department. Many others opt to drop their paramedic certification and switch to firefighter positions, Lauridsen said.
In the past two years, about 20 paramedics have dropped their certification to work as firefighters instead, the Fire Department said.