Firefighters with the highest level of medical training will be on duty 24-7 at two more of Spokane’s 14 fire stations under an agreement approved Monday by the Spokane City Council.
Under the deal between city administrators and the city’s firefighters union, the city will spread its paramedics among 10 stations, instead of eight. It will cost the city an additional $60,000 a year.
“If you vote yes, you’ll save somebody’s life, without a doubt,” Assistant Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer told the City Council before it voted 5-1 in support.
The city had been scheduling two paramedics to be on duty at eight stations, though because of vacations or sick leave, sometimes only one would be on duty. Starting Aug. 1, it will guarantee at least one paramedic on duty at ten stations all the time.
The stations with the enhanced service are:
∙ Station 2, 1001 E. North Foothills Drive
∙ Station 17, 5121 W. Lowell Road
Schaeffer said the West Plains fire station that will open next year after the city annexes 10 square miles, including the Spokane International Airport, also will have a paramedic on duty.
All the city’s 300 firefighters are trained to at least give basic life support, but only about 60 are paramedics who provide advanced life support.
When a call comes in from an area served by a station without a paramedic, crews from another station also are called to the scene. Fire officials say that leads to slower response times and wasted resources.
The problem has been especially pronounced within Station 2’s area. That fire house is served by a four-person company that runs one of the city’s three large ladder trucks. When someone has a critical medical need nearby, the ladder truck heads to the scene along with a fire truck with the closest available paramedic. There were 545 calls for advanced life support last year within Station 2’s boundary last year.
“It will reduce duplication and multiple responses that we’ve heard complaints about from the public,” Schaeffer said.
Resources will shift to Station 2, which will get a new 3-person engine company with a paramedic. Schaeffer said the department does not want to place a paramedic on the ladder company because doing so would keep the ladder truck out-of-service for large amounts of time. Although the plan doesn’t require hiring, it will cost about $60,000 as a result of promotions, including four new lieutenant positions, for the new company.
Fire administrators said they believe the cost of the change can be absorbed in the current Fire Department budget.
The trade-off is losing firefighters at three stations. Under national firefighting guidelines, firefighters won’t enter a burning building with only three firefighters on scene unless someone is thought to be inside. But with 75 percent or more calls strictly calls for medical care, officials say they’ll likely save more lives by spreading out paramedics then will be lost by reducing four-person crews to three.
The three stations that will lose firefighters are:
∙ Station 3, 1713 W. Indiana Ave.
∙ Station 11, 3212 S. Perry St.
∙ Station 13, 1118 W. Wellesley Ave.
Each of those stations will maintain a paramedic on duty.
Spreading out the city’s paramedics was recommended by the Abaris Group, a California consulting firm that studied the city’s Fire Department and released its findings in 2009. The City Council spent $92,000 on the study. Schaeffer said the department has been working with the fire union for about a year to come up with a deal on the shift.
Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin, a frequent critic of increased spending, said she believes the deal will give citizens better service and could save the city more in the long-run. She praised the union for an agreement that allowed a reduction of firefighters at two stations.
“We’re going to get more than $60,000 worth of benefit from it,” McLaughlin said.
Lt. Mark Vietzke, president of Local 29, the Spokane Firefighters Union, said the union understands the need to spread out paramedics, but also believes four-person crews remain an important goal.
“We still think that’s what we should have, but, unfortunately, the economics aren’t going to allow it to happen.”
Spokane City Councilman Bob Apple cast the lone vote against the agreement. Council Richard Rush was absent.
Apple said he doesn’t believe the terms of the agreement will be followed in the long run.
“I can’t really see any benefit to serving the public,” Apple said. “All we’re doing is promoting people to higher posts.”