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Column: Replace those anti-vaccine firefighters with paramedics

So let’s say that in two weeks, hundreds of employees in the city of Los Angeles are still defying the COVID-19 vaccination mandate.

Then what ?

Well, we don’t know exactly. Wimpy city officials, who have already pushed back the compliance deadline in the face of resistance, have yet to explain the consequences for those who fail to comply by December 18. Already, some city workers – including firefighters – are on leave without pay for failing to sign notices advising them of the deadline.

For the sake of argument, let’s say that in the Fire Department, where more than 500 members have filed a complaint protesting the warrant, a few hundred stick to their guns and refuse the jab.

I say goodbye and good luck in finding such a high paying firefighter job. And let’s hope that the Cro-Magnon who took note of his warrant, wiped himself off with it and dropped it on the floor of a Pacific Palisades station is the first to go. He is on administrative leave while the ministry investigates.

Firefighters union president Freddy Escobar warned of a “devastating” risk to public safety if hundreds of firefighters are lost.

But it is unlikely. Chief Ralph Terrazas told me that with a little juggling here and some maneuvering there he can cover the pitch while the department fills the vacancies.

But if, say, 100, 200, or 300 firefighters stick to their guns and quit, that could be a tremendous opportunity for the department to realign itself and better serve the public.

The departing firefighters could be replaced by paramedics.

Why would that make sense?

Because it is easier, faster and cheaper to hire paramedics than firefighters. And more importantly, because 85% of calls relate to medical issues rather than fires, according to the LAFD. It’s part of a national trend, and metro agencies across the country have shifted their resources and strategies to meet changing needs.

That’s why Andrew Glazier, a former member of the Council of Fire Marshals, sees a potential mass departure as an opportunity rather than a problem.

“If you lose several hundred people and refuse to change your operating model, then, yes, you’re going to have a big problem,” Glazier said. “But… if they were willing to add single-function paramedics to the service, you can hire them and have them in the field in six weeks or less, and you can hire them continuously as needed. “

Glazier, who was appointed by Mayor Eric Garcetti, asked a lot of tough questions about departmental politics and unsuccessfully argued for a greater emphasis on medical services, but he was pushed back. He paid the price for not being a puppet for the town hall and for complying with the wishes of the administration and the firefighters union: Garcetti replaced him.

But let me get back to why Glazier uses the term ‘single function’ paramedics. In the past, the LAFD had two main job classifications: you were a firefighter or a paramedic, not both. That changed in the mid-1990s when paramedics received firefighter training.

Today, all LAFD firefighters have basic medical training, and many have also become paramedics, which involves more training and comes with a big pay rise. Dual training can be of great benefit, as there is a ready response for fires or medical emergencies.

But it’s an expensive model, and Glazier isn’t the only one who thinks some changes might be needed. Steve Knight, vice president of fire consultancy firm Fitch & Associates, said the New York City Fire Department is exploring options to better align resources to meet changing needs.

Knight said that over the past decades the number of fire calls has dropped dramatically, while emergency medical calls have skyrocketed, and among the alternatives at stake is a public-private partnership, in which emergency medical services are contracted.

A former senior LAFD official told me that not only are more than 8 out of 10 calls of a medical nature, the vast majority do not involve life-threatening issues.

“Probably 70% of them don’t even need paramedical skills,” the former official said. He added that there is long-standing opposition to the hiring of single-function doctors by the firefighters union, which would prefer to keep better-paying positions and avoid losing members to a medical unit not represented by the syndicate.

Escobar confirmed his opposition to hiring more single-function physicians. He told me via email that they wouldn’t necessarily be easy to find and would still need training in department operations, and he argued that the greatest need was for firefighters and firefighters / paramedics.

Terrazas told me he would oppose replacing firefighters with single-duty medics, in part because he thinks it would be difficult to maintain staff diversity goals. But this was contested by the former fire chief and the glazier; both said hiring paramedics, in particular, would help fill a shortfall in the department.

An increased focus on medical services could also help reduce overtime costs, which are both extravagant and legendary at LAFD, which exceeds all departments in annual occupational therapy costs, according to a recent audit by the city comptroller. . It is costly to have multiple firefighters / paramedics – who often work overtime – to answer a medical call that turns out to be little more than a crushed toe.

Kenneth Mejia, an accountant running for city comptroller, recently searched the files and tweeted a list of top earners on the city of LA payroll between January 1 and the end of September.

Eighteen of them are in the fire department. And each of them grossed over $ 500,000 in nine months.

It is not a typo.

The amount is more than the salary and overtime. It includes health care benefits, retirement benefits and other sweeteners. But the amount of overtime is mind-boggling.

An LAFD captain earned $ 385,000 in overtime alone in those nine months. In total, six firefighters earned over $ 300,000 in overtime alone, seven earned over $ 200,000 and four earned over $ 100,000.

With that kind of numbers; squadrons of LAFD members living out of state; a recent audit of overtime issues at COVID testing sites; and the allegations of harassment, discrimination, and fellowship culture, I think it’s safe to say this is not a particularly well-run department.

When I asked LAFD spokesperson Cheryl Getuiza about the half-million dollar leader board, she emailed me an answer.

“The LAFD members on this list have worked several hours of overtime, either to fill a vacant position in the field or to work in our COVID division,” she said.

Yeah, that’s a hell of a lot of sauce.

And while the job of firefighters can be grueling and dangerous, it’s surprising that hundreds of public safety workers can opt out rather than take a safe and effective vaccine in the midst of a pandemic.

But like I said, that’s not a problem.

It’s an opportunity.

Steve.lopez@latimes.com




Los Angeles Times

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