FOLSOM, CA - Doing more with less has become a reality for communities across the country, but some say budget cuts have gone too far to the point of compromising public safety.
Firefighters Union Head Brian Rice said the first responders are the first of many affected by the change. He said the new policy directly affects paramedics and EMTs, who are also represented by the union.
"I believe we're at the danger point," Rice said.
Rice said he doesn't believe most people realize the full impact of recent cutbacks that left the Folsom, at times, with only one 24-hour ambulance.
"We're at critical mass. There is no more fat left to cut. You are down to truly cutting in to the bare bones service that you provide the community," Rice said.
Starting this year, when overtime becomes an issue, one of Folsom's two ambulances will have to sit idle without a crew from the hours of 8 p.m. to 8 a.m., leaving a single crew to cover an area that includes roughly 75,000 people, but it doesn't end there. Neighboring fire departments said that automatic aid agreements require them to cover the gaps, leaving their taxpayers to subsidize Folsom's system.
"When you maximize in your city, it burdens another jurisdiction," Rice said.
That has the potential to affect response times throughout the area, and in the case of Folsom, Rice said that wait could be as long as 20 minutes.
"If you're going to have response times in that 12 to 20, 15 to 20 minute, call a coroner too," Rice said.
Folsom Fire Chief Ron Phillips released the following statement about the city's paramedic services plan:
"The City of Folsom is extremely committed to the safety and well-being of its citizens, meticulously analyzing call data and carefully planning to ensure that adequate resources are available to serve those requiring paramedic ambulance services.
"Folsom's Fire Department operates two staffed paramedic ambulances in the community on a daily, 24-hour basis.
"One paramedic ambulance is located at Fire Station 35 (535 Glenn Drive) and the second paramedic ambulance is located at Fire Station 37 (70 Clarksville Road). In addition, a reserve paramedic ambulance is located at Fire Station 37 and can be crossstaffed by the three firefighters assigned to Engine Company 37 when conditions warrant.
"A large percentage of our ambulance transports in the City occur between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m.
"Call volume data shows that Folsom's need for two operating ambulances drops significantly after 8:00 p.m. One paramedic ambulance is adequate between the hours of 8:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m. as we do not encounter the same frequency of emergency medical services requiring ambulance transport as we do during the earlier hours of the day.
"In an effort to control overtime costs and at the same time ensure adequate paramedic ambulance resources for the customers we serve, the City implemented a dynamic staffing pattern for Medic 37 as part of the budget package adopted by the City Council last year. This means that the City deploys and staffs its resources based upon the need to address peak call volume work periods. This model was built on a thorough review of historical data. Effective January 1, 2013, the City no longer staffs the paramedic ambulance at Fire Station 37 between the hours of 8:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m. whenever the hiring of off-duty firefighters to fill overtime vacancies during that time period is required. Our experience since implementation bears out the data.
"If all regularly assigned firefighters are on-duty (i.e. no overtime is required), both paramedic ambulances will remain in service for the entire twenty-four hour period.
The paramedic ambulance at Station 35 will continue to be staffed full-time twenty-four hours a day. In addition, the reserve ambulance at Station 37, that is cross-staffed by firefighters from Engine 37, will continue to be in operation twenty-four hours a day and will be placed into service for patient transports as conditions warrant.
"In addition, the City participates in a regional sharing of paramedic ambulances through various aid agreements in place with our cooperating fire agencies that provide similar services. These agencies can and do assist the City of Folsom with our patient transport needs when our ambulance fleet is unavailable during peak call volume periods. We frequently provide paramedic ambulance transport services for patients outside the City when requested by one or more of these agencies. "