City, firefighters grapple over proposed new dispatch model

Posted: March 27, 2014

THE PHILADELPHIA Civil Service Commission today will hear a pitch on how the Nutter administration plans to make staffing changes to ambulance runs - but not without resistance from the union that represents the city's firefighters and paramedics.

Nutter is seeking approval from the Civil Service Commission to allow the Fire Department to implement a new deployment plan for 9-1-1 calls - one that replaces the two paramedics who are dispatched with one paramedic and one EMT. Paramedics receive more in-depth training than their EMT counterparts.

Officials said they reached their decision based on recommendations made by the 2012 Berkshire Advisors Efficiency Study, which conducted a top-to-bottom review of the Philadelphia Fire Department and called for sweeping changes, both operationally and administratively.

"We want to address the fact that, currently, in our deployment today, we're sending too many EMTs in cases where they may end up on a critical call. Then we're sending two paramedics on a basic call that maybe neither of them are needed on," said David Gallagher, deputy commissioner for Emergency Medical Services.

"We're trying to distribute all of our resources equally, seven days a week. We'll have one paramedic and EMT on every call, and if we need it, we'll be able to send that extra paramedic for the backup they may need."

The proposal was met with icy reception from the firefighters. Joe Schulle, president of the firefighters union, Local 22, said the underlying reasoning behind the change in procedure is so the city can save money during a tight budget season by reducing overtime.

"Paramedics are so severely overworked right now," he said.

"Our concern is that on the critical emergencies, one paramedic is simply not enough to give adequate care to the patient. Nearly every major city across the country acknowledges the necessity of two paramedics on an advanced-care response. Philadelphia disagrees."

City Council, which largely backs the firefighters union, has no say over the decision. The Civil Service Commission will ultimately make the call.

Last year, according to Gallagher, the city paid more than $32 million in Fire Department overtime.


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