News, Training

California Medics Hit the Streets for First Time

It was 8:49 a.m. Tuesday when the report came in of a woman feeling faint. It would be a milestone.

Scott Durbin stepped into his boots and protective suit and jumped into the back of an engine at Fire Station 3 at Cawston and Devonshire avenues, ready for action.

In that moment, he became the first Hemet firefighter to respond to a paramedic call in the Hemet Fire Department’s 106-year history.

Durbin, a Hemet firefighter for nine years, has been unable to use his paramedic certification on the job. But on this, the first shift of the first day of paramedic services offered by the department, his full array of skills was at the ready.

“I had all the training but didn’t have the tools to do what I was trained to do,” Durbin said. “There were times I’ve been on calls and had to sit there and twiddle my thumbs waiting for paramedics when I knew I could help.”

His advanced training wasn’t needed on this run – though the elderly woman was taken to the hospital. However, he expects many more serious calls for the station that serves a number of the city’s large retirement communities.

And yes, it was the first. When the engine squad of Durbin, Capt. Jeff Retmier and Engineer Mike Spitsnaugle returned, they learned their call came seven minutes before Station 1 responded to its first call.

“It’s pretty exciting, a long time in the making,” Retmier said.

The paramedic program was a positive result that came out of a contentious, years-long debate over fire service in the city.

The lack of a paramedic program was a reason cited by the slim council majority that voted in September to contract out for fire services with the Cal Fire/Riverside County Fire Department. Starting the program was one of the conditions connected to the contract.

The Nov. 4 election flipped the council majority to those who favor keeping the local department. And they vowed to do just that when seated in December.

No matter how it came about, Durbin and others say they are happy to be able to provide paramedic services.

Previously, Hemet firefighters could only give basic aid to patients. As paramedics, they are allowed to offer advanced medical treatments, such as administering medication and oxygen, starting IVs, giving advanced airway treatments and manual defibrillation.

Hemet, one of the few municipal fire departments left in Riverside County, has 10 paramedics among its 39 firefighters and is looking to hire at least five more.

For now, they will work out of the three busiest stations with the ambulance crews from AMR continuing to be the lone medics in the city’s southwest corner.

Durbin and his counterparts figure to keep busy. In 2013, 11,058 calls were made to the department for medical aid – 85 percent of all the calls received. Interim Fire Chief Peter Bryan said industry statistics show 65 percent of those likely required paramedic treatment.

Durbin said on a typical day the station receives 10 to 15 calls, with eight to 10 for medical aid.

But it’s hard to predict.

“We’ve had days with 10 calls by 9 a.m.,” he said.

Paramedics are firefighters first and will continue in that capacity.

Having paramedics on fire engines will allow patients to get quicker treatment, officials have said. On that first call Tuesday, firefighters arrived at the patient’s home an estimated five minutes before an ambulance arrived.

Retmier, a Hemet firefighter for more than two decades, said talks about paramedics stretch to 1978. He recalls that the department started hiring certified paramedics in 2000.

Hemet has spent $300,000 for equipment, such as defibrillators, breathing apparatus and medications, and other start up costs, Bryan said. And certified paramedics will get a 5 percent salary increase.

The program is paid for out of the city’s general fund.

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