February 11, 1995 in Washington Voices

Paramedics Suggest Improved Response To Emergency Calls

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Valley Fire paramedics say they need more work.

Most of the fire district’s 17 medics signed a letter to the board of commissioners saying that improper distribution of staff is reducing their skill level.

The medics prefer to work in pairs, on two-person squads, rather than being the only medic on a threeperson engine company, the letter said.

The squads should be the primary response teams to medical calls, they said. That way, more medics come in contact with more patients more frequently.

Sixty-five to 70 percent of the district’s calls are medical.

“One of my biggest concerns is mistreating a patient,” said paramedic Dave Phay. “That’s a big fear of mine. I don’t want to have to live with that.”

Medical advisers, Spokane Ambulance officials, paramedics and others at Valley Fire met with fire district commissioners Tuesday to discuss the problem.

There is more to the medics’ complaints than training and experience, said paramedic division chief Larry Herberholz. “One of those is promotion,” he said.

The district’s contract with firefighters requires that a two-man paramedic squad includes a lieutenant, Herberholz said. If the district were to go along with the paramedics’ staffing proposal, it would be forced to promote at least three paramedics to lieutenant and then hire more firefighters to fill the vacancies on the engine companies, he said.

The main issue, said Royce Van Gerpen, who was the district’s medical adviser for 17 years, is the trade-off between response time and training.

If paramedics are taken off the engine companies, it would take longer to get a paramedic to areas those engines serve, Herberholz said. “Our system is not broken,” he said. “It’s worked great this way for years.”

Some areas of Liberty Lake are on the high end of response times - about 11 minutes in some cases. But crews reach most areas of the Valley within five to seven minutes.

“We’re meeting goals both on local and national levels,” said Jim Winter, the district’s medical adviser.

Now, there are two squads - operating out of stations 1, on East Sprague, and station 5, on North Sullivan. Single paramedics are assigned to station 2, on East Trent, and sometimes to station 7, at 12th and Evergreen.

Paramedics say working in pairs is crucial to their training. The district links beginners with seasoned veterans. The best training comes from working with more experienced partners, the medics said.

“They’re fresh out of school,” said Lt. Jim Umthun of beginners. “If you are only book-trained, you’re going to make a wrong call.”

The paramedics’ concerns were not resolved at the meeting. The issue was left open for more discussion and suggestions.

The district also is in the middle of hiring a new chief, a decision which should be made early next week, said Commissioner Ray Allen.

Any changes in paramedic staffing might be postponed until the new chief takes over, Chief Karl Bold said.


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