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All cities in Los Angeles County now operate own paramedic program

SIERRA MADRE, Calif. A voice from the police scanner airwaves echoed through Fire Station No. 1 Friday morning, welcoming Sierra Madre as the last city in Los Angeles County to have its own paramedic programs.

The announcement from a dispatcher in the Verdugo Fire Communications Center in Glendale, which serves 11 San Gabriel Valley cities, was greeted with applause by the roughly 75 people gathered at the Sierra Madre fire station for inauguration of the city's new paramedic program.

Although the Sierra Madre All-Volunteer Fire Department has had emergency medical service since 1971, it has lacked advanced life support, such as automated external defibrillators and medication for those having heart attacks or suffering from diabetes.

"Paramedics can do life-saving procedures immediately based on field diagnoses," said Greg Christmas, the department's paramedic coordinator and captain. "We're making a giant leap forward."

In September, the City Council authorized the city's first paramedic program, which would operate much like the model created by La Habra Heights fire Chief John Nielsen.

The La Habra Heights Fire Department has hired a pool of 50 paramedics from ambulance services and other sources as part-time employees of the city's fire department to provide residents with advanced life support. The medics can work up to two 24-hour shifts a month, said Sabrina Somma, the department's paramedic coordinator.

The program costs the city of La Habra Heights about $190,000 per year, including salaries, new equipment and medications, Nielsen has said.

Somma, who was present at Friday's ceremony, will also be taking shifts in Sierra Madre, which has hired 40 medics as temporary employees.

She said the county's only all-volunteer fire department is "well-respected."

"Everybody here is here because they want to be and they love the job," she said of the uniformed paramedics present Friday who came to show their support of the new program.

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