SAN DIEGO– More than 300 EMS responders have come to the American Medical Response headquarters to assist in caring for their firefighting comrades and„San Diego„County residents during this week_s fires.

˙It_s a luxury we have because we have a presence in„San Diego,Ó says Katie Keach, AMR_s government relations manager. AMR, the county_s disaster ambulance coordinator, is hosting EMTs and paramedics from nine ambulance companies, including MedCoast Ambulance Service in Santa Fe Springs, who have traveled to„San Diego„County to assist where needed.

˙We_re glad to help and do whatever we can,Ó says MedCoast_s Vanessa Avila, EMT-B, who began working on Wildfire duty on Monday. ˙We were transporting nursing home residents who had to be evacuated; and we took them to a hospital.Ó

Avila and Matt Armstrong, EMT-B, were waiting for the arrival of two more MedCoast ambulances to relieve them.

William Meixner, the incident commander for AMR San Diego, says ambulance crews in„San Diego did an excellent job providing care before getting help from outside the county.

Fifteen ambulance strike teams from Riverside, San Bernardino, Orange and Los Angeles counties joined in the effort, supported by AMR staff from as far away as Portland, Ore. Help has also comes from the military.

Many crews have been working 24-hour shifts, first to ensure maximum crew availability for the evacuation of hospitals and skilled-care centers in the danger zone, says Meixner.

Among other things, the teams Ï each with either five ALS or five BLS responders and a state-trained team leader„Ïprovided medical aid at the Del Mar Fairgrounds Evacuation Center and also set established EMS operations at the fire service staging and housing camp in„Escondido,„CA.

Meixner says the largest task force, comprised of nine strike teams and a leader, evacuated a Spring Valley Facility with more than 400 patients around 2:30 a.m. on Tuesday.

˙[It was] nine teams rolling code for approximately three miles,Ó he says. Now in the repatriation phase, teams are working 12-hour shifts to transport patients back, Meixner says.

As the county_s disaster ambulance coordinator, AMR is working to ensure a coordinated response for any request for„EMS assistance made by the county. The company is represented in medical control at the incident command center, which is in contact with the ambulance coordinator at the company_s headquarters. From the command center, staff members take information to make decisions on where to dispatch responders.

˙From here we_re able to coordinate every ambulance in the county,Ó Meixner says. ˙We_re able to have one source of information.Ó

Part of being in control of the county_s disaster response is ensuring smooth daily operations. ˙We_ve seen a very dramatic increase in the 9-1-1 business,Ó Meixner says. ˙We_ve added six ambulances in each operation area to meet increase in demand.Ó

He says calls range from a significant number of respiratory complaints, to cardiac calls near the fires. He has noticed a drop in non-emergency calls.

Employees are also assisting other staff members in sorting donations brought by residents who heard the request for supplies and assistant. As of Wednesday afternoon, they had put together more than 500 care packages, including personal hygiene products and socks, for the nearly 4,000 firefighters staffing the front lines and resting in or near the medical camps, Keach says.

˙We put a plea out to the community, and it was met very graciously,Ó she says.