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Crucial Medical Services Roll Faster to Fresno, Calif.

FRESNO, Calif. -- New ambulance service in San Joaquin is slicing into the time it takes to get medical aid to isolated parts of western Fresno County, Calif.

In its first two weeks, the ambulance has responded to 40 calls, officials say.

In addition to San Joaquin, the ambulance service covers Tranquillity, Helm, Cantua Creek, Three Rocks and Interstate 5 between Highway 33 and Kamm Avenue.

The project has been in the works for some time.

"We started on it about three years ago," Fresno County Supervisor Phil Larson said. "It was sorely needed, and since it's been there, it's been very active."

The ambulance was put into service because of a new wrinkle in Fresno County's contract with American Ambulance requiring faster response times, said Dan Lynch, Fresno County Emergency Medical Services director.

The new contract, which went into effect in January, requires American Ambulance to be on scene within 20 minutes instead of 30 minutes for 95% of its calls, he said.

"The San Joaquin unit is such a benefit because there are so few resources on the west side for fire, police or medical services," Lynch said. "The biggest difference will be ... day to day. The addition of this ambulance will save lives."

He also said the county, American Ambulance and Cal Fire are working on a new around-the-clock ambulance service from the Cal Fire Blasingame station on Sample Road, near Humphrey's Station, Lynch said.

The new ambulance service will be paid for through billings by American Ambulance, he said.

Before the new service, ambulances were stationed in Kerman and Mendota, which meant that Fresno County Fire Protection District's firefighters from Tranquillity were usually first on scene to the San Joaquin area.

But firefighters offer basic life support, while paramedics have advanced training.

"It's putting the advanced life support people on scene faster and definitely assisting in what we do," Fresno County Fire Protection District Chief Keith Larkin said. "Their response frequently would be longer, so this is definitely an improvement."

The service reduces the amount of time Fresno County firefighters need to be at a medical-aid response call. With ambulances closer, firefighters will not have to remain as long on medical-aid calls -- a majority of the calls to which firefighters respond.

Todd Valeri, American Ambulance general manager, said the new ambulance fills a gap in an underserved part of Fresno County.

"We have wanted to expand service in western Fresno County for a while, and when we approached the city manager of San Joaquin, she welcomed us with open arms and helped us identify a location," he said.

Cruz Ramos, San Joaquin city manager, said plans are being finalized to renovate a city-owned volunteer fire station at 21960 W. Railroad Ave.

"I think we both saw this as a good fit and a benefit to the entire area," she said. "The city itself is taking a great deal of pride in trying to think regionally."

For now, new owners of the Delta Packing plant, Gil's Onions, are allowing American Ambulance to house its employees at a mobile home on land at Colusa and Manning avenues.

"There is a cooperative spirit of all the parties involved," she said.

The reporter can be reached at mbenjamin@fresnobee.com or (559) 441-6166.

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