After reading numerous articles and submissions in regard to the proposed fire tax, I am concerned just how many people don’t seem to be aware of what emergency medical services (EMS) they have available to them in East Contra Costa. I would like the readers and public out there to know that if they think this tax is necessary in order for them to receive prompt, professional, well trained, emergency medical service, they are mistaken and uninformed.
There are two parts to a response the way the EMS system is set up in Contra Costa County: the first responders (I’ll elaborate more on this in a bit) and the ambulance. With the exception of San Ramon, Moraga and Orinda, ambulance service is contracted by the county to American Medical Response (AMR). Every single ambulance in Contra Costa that responds to an emergency has at least one paramedic (paramedic means they can provide Advanced Life Support, also known as ALS) and one emergency medical technician – basic (EMT); sometimes there are two paramedics in lieu of a one paramedic one EMT configuration.
The AMR ambulances are payed for on a fee-for-use basis only; your tax dollars do not go toward providing ambulance coverage. Simply put, you only pay for the ambulance if you use it, and to elaborate on that, you only pay for its use if you get transported. For the ambulance and its paramedic to show up and evaluate and/or treat you, but not transport, costs nothing and you pay nothing for that service.
Now, the first responder aspect is in addition to the ambulance. Along with the ambulance being dispatched to medical emergencies, first responders are dispatched as well. These first responders typically consist of the fire department and their personnel. The general belief is that in a medical emergency you want trained personnel to get to you as fast as possible to begin providing care while the ambulance is still possibly en route. Also, there are some instances where additional hands are needed, such as moving patients to the ambulance cot or in the event of a cardiac arrest, where multiple hands are needed to perform CPR.
With this tax proposal, East Contra Costa Fire says it will use part of the tax fee to provide paramedic service on its fire engines so the citizens of East County will have fire department paramedic service (currently they staff EMTs).
What I fail to see mentioned time and time again are two things: 1) East County already has paramedic service on every single ambulance that responds to its emergencies, and: 2) as part of its contract with Contra Costa County, AMR already provides experienced paramedic first responders to East County. These AMR paramedic first responders are actually stationed 24/7 at fire stations in East County (station 52 – Brentwood, station 59 – Discovery Bay, station 95 – Bethel Island) and respond in conjunction with the fire department (and the ambulance) to all medical calls.
Additionally, there are two ambulance stations staffed with two paramedics each, 24/7, in the area, one in Brentwood and the other in Antioch just on the Oakley border (there are also many more paramedic ambulances that cover East County in 10-12-hour shift increments, which remain on the road and are not in stations).
East county citizens: these AMR paramedic first responders are provided to you at no cost. They are part of the ambulance contract due to the fact that East Contra Costa Fire does not have paramedics on its fire engines. First responder paramedics and ambulance paramedics are not dependent on this fire tax; you already have them!
Finally, an important thing to note is that these AMR first responder paramedics are dedicated for medical calls regardless of the fire department having to perform fire suppression duties. If this fire tax is passed as is, and paramedics are staffed on the fire engines, two things will happen: 1) the county will no longer require AMR to provide these first responder paramedics and they will be removed, and 2): as a result of the dedicated AMR first responder paramedics being removed, in the event a firefighter/paramedic is performing fire suppression duties when a medical emergency occurs, they will be unable to respond – in contrast to the AMR first responder paramedic, who would have been able to regardless of the existence of a fire incident.
Please don’t be scared into thinking this tax is needed in order to provide paramedic service to East County, because it simply is not.
Gavin Consveer, Oakley