Grand Jury Recommends Full Time Paramedic Services for Pine Mountain

Grand Jury Recommends Full Time Paramedic Services for Pine Mountain
Criticizes ‘Attitude’ of Private Ambulance Services

By Gary Meyer and Patric Hedlund

Frazier Park, CA — The Kern County Grand Jury issued a report on May 29 summarizing its investigation into county emergency medical services. The investigation, which focused primarily on the use of helicopters in medical emergencies, also examined Kern County Fire Department’s need for full time paramedics at Pine Mountain’s Station 58.

The Grand Jury’s Ad Hoc Committee wrote in its report, "The Committee sensed that the private sector [ambulance] providers have an attitude of skepticism as to the motives of the Kern County Fire Department relating to ambulance and paramedic services. To put it another way, they seemed to feel that the Fire Department wanted to take over the paramedic function and possibly the ambulance service now handled by the private sector."

Currently in Kern County, fire station personnel are trained and certified as Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs). Most counties in California staff their stations with firefighter paramedics who are certified to provide what is known as Advanced Life Support (ALS)  services in addition to their firefighting skills. ALS is a much higher level of capability for stabilizing those in need of medical assistance.

The Grand Jury’s report said that investigators interviewed Director of Kern County Emergency Medical Services Ross Elliott; the owner and founder of Hall Ambulance, Bakersfield Mayor Harvey Hall; Kern County Fire Chief Dennis Thompson; several assistant fire chiefs; and the captain in charge of the county’s fire helicopter facility along with his staff.

The report’s authors said that for situations where ground transport is inadequate, Hall Ambulance Service has one helicopter to provide service to 75 per cent of the county. When that one helicopter is in use, one private helicopter can be called from Mojave. When both are in use, one must be brought in from another county.

The committee noted that Kern County Fire Department has a helicopter (known as “408”) which is currently stocked with only basic life support equipment, but which has a hoist lift (used in rescues) and night vision capabilities. According to the report, "This use, however, presents several problems. The most significant of these is that it is only basic life support-equipped and has to rely on getting advanced life support capabilities from [one] of the two private paramedic services. Secondly, the private sector is extremely reluctant to provide assistance to the Fire Department."

The report continues, "The Committee questioned the Fire Chief at length on this subject and the response was that the Fire Department has absolutely no desire to take over…[paramedic and ambulance] functions from the private sector. What the Fire Department does want, provided they are not fighting a fire, is to be able to use their helicopter in a medical emergency when the privately-owned helicopters are not available."

Chief Thompson, during a Town Hall meeting in Pine Mountain on Tuesday, June 5, said that a firefighter paramedic program will "only mean more money, not less" for private ambulance companies, because medical assist calls "will result in more survivors instead of ambulance dry runs with a call for the coroner’s van." [see related story, Firefighter Paramedic Plan Now on Track Chief Says]

The Grand Jury’s recommendations included:
• That the Fire Chief work with the Board of Supervisors to obtain funds for equipment and training needed to prepare Helicopter 408 for advanced life support services.
• That Helicopter 408 be authorized for medical rescues when needed as long as that does not interfere with its fire fighting mission.
• That the Fire Department consider stationing full time paramedics in Pine Mountain until the private sector can take over that function.
• That the Fire Department and the private ambulance companies resolve their differences.

The report concluded with an order for Kern County Fire Department and Kern County Emergency Medical Services Department both to respond within 60 days to the Presiding Judge of Kern County Superior Court in Bakersfield.

Download the full report.

This is part of the June 08, 2007 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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