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, at a cost of about $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 10 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 also will have a paramedic on duty.
All 300 of the city’s firefighters are trained to at least give basic life support, but only about 60 are paramedics who provide advanced life support.
When a critical medical 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 is pronounced within Station 2’s service area. That firehouse has a four-person company that runs one of the city’s three large ladder trucks. When someone has a critical medical need, the ladder truck heads to the scene along with a firetruck with the closest available paramedic. There were 545 calls for advanced life care within the station’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 three-person engine 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 for the new company that will be created at Station 2.
One 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 75 percent or more of the calls the department responds to are strictly for medical care, so officials say there’s a higher benefit to spreading out paramedics.
The three stations that will lose an on-duty firefighter, though they will maintain an on-duty paramedic, are:
• Station 3, 1713 W. Indiana Ave.
• Station 11, 3212 S. Perry St.
• Station 13, 1118 W. Wellesley Ave.
Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin praised the agreement.
“We’re going to get more than $60,000 worth of benefit from it,” she said.
Councilman Bob Apple cast the lone vote against the agreement. Councilman Richard Rush was absent.
Apple said he doesn’t believe the terms of the agreement will be followed in the long run.
“All we’re doing is promoting people to higher posts.”