Santa Clara County Could Save a Lot by Sending Ambulances – Not Fire Trucks – to Medical Emergencies

A Santa Clara County civil grand jury reported June 15 that the county is wasting massive amounts of money by sending firefighters to respond to calls for medical emergencies. The grand jury's report found that 70 percent of Fire Department calls are medical emergencies, and only 4 percent of the department's calls are fire-related.

"But even so," the San Jose Mercury News noted, "firefighters respond as if they are heading to a fire, sending a crew of three or more on a truck or engine costing an average of $500,000 – five times the cost of an ambulance."

Typically, only one of the three firefighters who arrive on the scene has medical training, the report said. The grand jury stated: "Taxpayers can no longer afford to fund the status quo. Using firefighter-paramedics in firefighting equipment as first responders to all non-police emergencies is unnecessarily costly when less expensive paramedics on ambulances possess the skills needed to address the 96 percent of calls that are not fire-related."

In addition to being cheaper, ambulances likely could respond faster, the grand jury said.

The report also criticized firefighter unions, saying, "Unions are more interested in job preservation than in providing the right mix of capabilities at a reasonable cost, using scare tactics to influence the public." (Source: San Jose Mercury News, June 15.)

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