Calif. first responders, supporters raise alarms over ALS proposal
First responders are calling the new proposed ALS policy "an attack on the fire agencies' ability to deliver EMS to the citizens we serve"
By Joe Goldeen
The Record, Stockton, Calif.
STOCKTON, Calif. — San Joaquin County's little known Emergency Medical Services Agency came under intense fire at Tuesday morning's Board of Supervisors meeting from those charged with putting out real fires.
After staging a symbolic march from Stockton Fire Station 2 to the County Administration Building downtown, firefighters from the city of Stockton and throughout San Joaquin County — along with their supporters — used the public comment session to address the board about the problems they have with a proposed new policy regulating advanced aife support.
"It boils down to an overreach by the county into local jurisdictions," Mario Gardea, president of Stockton Professional Firefighters Local 456, said outside the meeting.
"The bottom line is we have been dealing with (Administrator) Dan Burch and EMSA for 12 to 13 years. Every time there is an opening in the contract, Dan Burch and the county try to tie our hands. He wants to basically control the fire departments," Gardea said.
"Our goal is to have San Joaquin County committed to dictate policy and recommendations, but he has gone unchecked. ... Dan Burch wants to limit the amount of medics in San Joaquin County, which makes no sense," Gardea said.
Contacted after the meeting, Burch said he could not comment on firefighters' statements while the ALS proposal is being negotiated. And he could not provide a copy of the proposal because it remains in draft form.
"The county doesn't negotiate in public," Burch said.
What he would discuss were the three priorities that EMSA hopes to achieve in negotiations with the city of Stockton and the South County Fire Authority, mainly its focus on allowing EMSA to evaluate the emergency medical system, ensure accountability and improve patient care.
"There is still an opportunity for the city (of Stockton) and the county to collaborate on providing good patient-care services," Burch said. "We want to see if we can work things out."
Allowed two minutes to address the board, Gardea opened by telling supervisors:
"I feel like the Stockton Fire Department has been controlled by a bully for a decade. The Stockton Fire Department has provided ALS services to the community for years. We have very skilled medics from all kinds of backgrounds. Whenever the ALS agreement is up for renewal, it gives Dan Burch a reason to go after us for fire-based services. That 52-page document is designed for transport units, for-profit transport units. It is not designed for the fire service."
After being put off or simply ignored for half a year, Gardea said, EMSA presented the Stockton Fire Department with a 52-page proposal. The current agreement is seven pages long, he said.
"This agreement will take away the powers of our charter city. Stockton Fire Local 456 doesn't understand why these additions need to be in our ALS agreement when most fire agencies do not have such additions to their agreements. The proposed agreement is designed for a profit transport company. For the past 10 years, a seven-page agreement worked. I really don't know what's changed."
Stockton City Councilwoman Christina Fugazi also addressed the board, stating she was there as a city representative, a city resident and a teacher. And she was impatient.
"We need to get this ALS agreement done," Fugazi said.
"I want you to know that we as a city are willing to do what the state of California requires us to do, and we are not questioning that. We want to be a good partner with the county, working with you. But this rescheduling, this pushing off of our ALS agreement over and over again is not good for anyone in our county," Fugazi said.
"I want you to seriously look at this 52-page document, because in this document there are some things that simply aren't common sense," she said, referring to a section that requires Stockton firefighters to be available to accompany a patient in the ambulance, but the ambulance is not responsible for returning the firefighter, even if it is from San Joaquin General Hospital in French Camp.
Tracy Mayor Robert Rickman implored the Board of Supervisors to "let our firefighters do what they do best, and that is to save lives."
He described the proposed agreement for the South County Fire Authority as "an overreach and abuse of power that needs to stop."
Firefighter Shawn Wootten, president of the Lathrop-Manteca Fire Fighters Association, said "no other agency in the state has to deal with this," referring to the fact that his department has not been allowed to provide advanced life support services.
"Dan Burch said no. ... By putting more medics out there, it will harm EMS care. Why isn't there a pathway to allow us to become ALS?" Wootten asked.
The local fire department and city representatives were joined by Brian Rice, president of the California Professional Firefighters, and Frank Lima, vice president of the International Association of Fire Fighters.
Both longtime firefighters said they were unaware of any ALS agreement anywhere else with such sweeping provisions as that being proposed by San Joaquin County EMSA.
"I implore you to look into this. I've never seen a 52-page (ALS contract)," Rice said.
"I've never seen or heard of this kind of model being proposed today," Lima said, describing the current situation as "a big red bell" when you have both rank-and-file firefighters and fire chiefs working together.
Many speakers, including Lima, said the proposal appears to be "catering to the private ambulance company."
Since the firefighters and their supporters were not on the board's agenda, no member of the Board of Supervisors commented on what they heard Tuesday.
©2019 The Record (Stockton, Calif.)