With medical response calls on the rise, the Palo Alto Fire Department last week adjusted its staffing so that every fire truck and station has at least one paramedic trained to handle some of the department's most serious emergency calls.
Starting Jan. 10, the department began including at least one Advanced Life Support Paramedic on every fire apparatus and station in addition to existing crews of emergency medical technicians, the city announced.
Before the change, many of the engines were staffed with emergency-medical technicians who would handle the lower priority calls. If the city's three ambulances were busy, medical response for the more serious calls was handled by Santa Clara County's medical-transport services.
With the move, the city's has seven apparatus and three ambulances capable of placing a paramedic on the scene for these serious calls in 12 minutes or less 99 percent of the time, according to the city's announcement.
City Manager James Keene lauded the adjustment as one that puts the department "on a path to create efficiencies that will sustain the high level of emergency services our community expects."
The staffing adjustment is the latest effort by the fire department to enhance a medical-response operation in response to a growing senior population and a sharp increase in medical emergencies. According to the city's budget, the fire department responded to 4,712 medical and rescue calls in fiscal year 2013. In the same year, it responded to 150 fire incidents.
The department has added a third ambulance and, according to the budget, is planning to add a fourth. The goal is to reduce the city's reliance on the county's ambulance provider, Rural Metro, and continue to meet the department's goal of getting to medical emergencies within 12 minutes 99 percent of the time.
Fire Chief Eric Nickel said in the city's announcement that the city's existing three ambulances are now strategically positioned in northern, central and southern portions of the city.
"There will continue to be increasing demand for emergency medical services due to the increasing number of residents age 65 and over as well as Palo Alto's large daytime population," Nickel said. "The goal is to provide faster advanced medical care at no additional cost."
Nickel also pointed to the department's recent strategic-planning process, which surveyed residents and various community stakeholders and which showed medical response to be a top priority.
"We value the community's feedback, and we heard loud and clear that effective EMS response is the community's number one expectation," Nickel said. "The community is our reason for existing, and as needs change, we change."