Santa Monica firefighters are standing together against the Fire Chief regarding staffing and dispatch directions for Santa Monica Fire Department (SMFD).
While Chief Scott Ferguson has backed a new two-person Rescue Ambulance Pilot Program for the fleet, firefighters say that this option is not feasible. They are calling for a four-person engine to be added, to ensure that Santa Monica is kept well served and safe.
In recognition that SMFD is in need of extra resources, City Council’s midyear budget review raised the currently contentious issue at Tuesday’s Santa Monica City Council meeting.
Ferguson and City staff advocated the addition of a two-person Rescue Ambulance (RA) for SMFD in the form of a Pilot Program.
The current SMFD deployment model for emergency medical calls includes a Fire Engine with a four-person firecrew, of which two must be licensed paramedics and two are Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs), as well as a private ambulance with two EMTs.
After much discussion, council members voted unanimously to approve the motion to add six full-time firefighters to SMFD to staff one RA, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
“This additional resource would augment the current delivery system and deployment model, and work towards reducing response times, improving customer satisfaction, and increasing unit response reliability,” according to City staff. “Experience and data would continue to be evaluated to determine how to best deploy future staffing resources.”
This means that four licensed firefighter Paramedics and four EMTs will respond to every emergency medical call, the City said.
Santa Monica Firefighters Local 1109 said that an RA option has been tried before without success. They are continuing to push for adding a four-person Advanced Life Support (ALS) flexible resource to the department so that they can send a complete crew to more emergency situations, increasing the probability of saving lives and minimizing risk.
“The proposed two-person resource will be limited in the types of calls that it will be able to handle,” the firefighters stated in a published flyer. “Our current four-person staffing model allowed us to discontinue the use of a [previously-used] tiered dispatch system that was subject to error and exposed the City to greater liability.”
The City explained that in the instances that the new RA is first to arrive on scene, the two-man team can assess the situation and if the medical need requires a BLS response, the RA will have the ability to cancel the Fire Engine response.
Speaking at City Council, Fire Captain James Altman, President of the Santa Monica Firefirghtser Local 1109, said that while any added resources is appreciated, the Santa Monica system is set-up for four-person dispatch and sending a team of two, is simply not enough and will not work.
“If our city is going to add additional resources to our fire department for the first time in years, let’s do it the right way,” Altman said.
“An additional four-person engine will allow your firefighters to properly respond to all calls for service, it will allow us to be self-sustaining and not rely on mutual aid from out neighbors like Culver City and the City of Los Angeles, who most of the tome are so busy that they are unable to respond to us,” the fire captain added.
Explaining that the firefighters “respectfully disagree” with the Chief Ferguson, Altman referred to the two dozen firefighters who attended Tuesday’s meeting with more than “200 years of combined service” between them.
“We are the boots on the ground, we are the youth of this organization,” Altman said.
The Fire Chief supports the addition of 12 firefighters to the department, yet understands the challenges of competing Council and community priorities given the resources available at this time, according to the City.
Local residents took the opportunity to address City Council during the meeting to back the firefighters, also calling for a four-person ALS resource and citing examples where a four-person crew saved the lives of loved ones, and where two-person ambulances had not.
The issue will be revisited in the May Study Sessions for the 2-Year Budget, with advocates for a new four-person ALS crew planning to raise the issue with increased support, then.
“We will continue advocating and supporting the firefighters because public safety is their focus and because they’re the first ones who respond when we call 911,” local resident Zina Josephs said.