While the Lathrop-Manteca Fire District was hoping to be moving forward this summer with plans to put paramedics on every fire engine, the crush of coronavirus cases over the last month has at least temporarily sidelined those advancements.
According to Lathrop-Manteca Fire Chief Gene Neely, the district is now waiting on determinations from the San Joaquin County EMS Agency before they can move forward with developing a plan to implement the program — which would add Lathrop-Manteca to a list of fire service agencies in the county that already have practicing paramedics on engines like Stockton, Ripon, and Tracy.
But with COVID-19 cases skyrocketing in San Joaquin County and hospitals capacity being stressed, those determinations will likely have to wait. The same agency that they’re awaiting determinations from is also tasked with keeping tabs on the overall hospital capacity for the county and helping navigate the uncharted waters that healthcare and first responders currently find themselves in.
“Right now, the county is knee-deep in what’s going on with the coronavirus, and we are responding to issues related to the pandemic from responding to calls from the outside to internal issues we have to take care of to keep people safe,” Neely said. “Right now, we’re just keeping everything status quo but we are staying focused on wanting to achieve this goal.”
And the pandemic, Neely said, is offering a glimpse into why the district is making to request to add advanced life support to its basic operating procedures.
Currently, the district relies on Manteca District Ambulance to serve the citizens of Lathrop and other outside agencies when those units are not available. And with hospitals reaching capacity and some ambulances being held before patients are offloaded because there is limited room at the time of their arrival, it could, Neely said, be that much longer before that ambulance unit is released to be back in the community and able to respond to calls.
The district currently has a number of fire personnel that are certified as paramedics and would have to hire more in order to meet the staffing levels that Neely wants to see as part of the program. In addition to hiring those paramedic-certified firefighters, the district would also have to forge agreements with a medical director that can prescribe the medications that could be administered by responding personnel and upgrade its engines to secure those medications safely.
Neely said that the next step would likely be discussing and possibly hiring a consultant to help with that process once the determinations are processed at the county level.
“It will bring our capability to the next level — it provides the highest level of care in San Joaquin County for first responders and provides service even when ALS agencies get tapped out,” Neely said. “There may be multiple calls or a mass-casualty incident that would require ambulances coming from outside of the area, and this provides that same level of service when we respond to a call – which is important when seconds matter.”
While independent agencies like the Ripon Consolidated Fire District operate its own ambulance service, Neely said that his pursuit is not to provide transport but simply advanced life support capabilities on the calls that his engines respond to.
The San Joaquin County EMS Agency has relaxed protocols over the last two years to allow for agencies that undergo the training to carry and administer two medications — naloxone for opiate overdoses and epinephrine for allergic reactions.
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