Calif. city firefighters may stop responding to low-priority 911 calls

By sending only ambulances to low-priority calls, the Chula Vista Fire Department believes it can respond to high-priority calls faster


By Gustavo Solis
The San Diego Union-Tribune

CHULA VISTA, Calif. — In Chula Vista, firefighters and paramedics respond to low-priority 911 calls even though less than one percent of those calls require emergency medical services.

By not sending firefighters to those calls, the Chula Vista Fire Department believes it can respond to high-priority calls faster. The department is currently considering sending only ambulances to what are officially known as level three calls.

In Chula Vista, firefighters and paramedics respond to low-priority 911 calls even though less than one percent of those calls require emergency medical services. (Photo/City of Chula Vista)
In Chula Vista, firefighters and paramedics respond to low-priority 911 calls even though less than one percent of those calls require emergency medical services. (Photo/City of Chula Vista)

“When you look at surrounding fire departments, they don’t send a first responder on a level three call,” said Deputy Fire Chief Harry Muns. “So there’s other departments already not doing this and that’s what we’re looking at.”

National City and San Diego fire departments do not send firefighters to level three medical calls, Muns added.

The fire department recently analyzed 1,800 level three calls and found that only 0.12 percent of those calls resulted in the highest level of medical emergency.

“We’re building data and we’re slowly showing that we have comfort that we should probably back up from this,” Muns said.

Letting ambulances respond to all level three calls would free up the department’s limited staff to focus on high-priority 911 calls, he added

Chula Vista’s police and fire departments are currently so understaffed that the city is asking voters to approve a sales tax increase to hire more officers and firefighters.

Because Chula Vista currently has an emergency transport contract with a private company called American Medical Response, it needs to negotiate with the company before making any changes to how the fire department responds to level three calls.

City Councilman and retired firefighter Mike Diaz acknowledged that the current policy of sending first responders to level three calls is not working. But he had concerns about outsourcing the work to American Medical Services.

“I’ve always believed that in public safety we need to be the masters of our own destiny and with this we are giving that away,” he said.

He proposed having firefighters respond to level three calls with some sort of “squad concept,” where two first responders drive in smaller vehicles.

Copyright 2018 The San Diego Union-Tribune

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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