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City’s emergency medical unit starts pumping

City’s emergency medical unit starts pumping

City has already purchased EMS vehicle, council authorizes use of Measure N money to fund paramedic unit

By Reggie Ellis  @Reggie_SGN

VISALIA – The Visalia Fire Department has already taken the first step in creating its own emergency medical services unit. And now they have authorization to begin hiring paramedics and someone to supervise them. 

At its Aug. 19 meeting, the Visalia City Council unanimously approved amending Measure N, the half cent sales tax measure approved in 2016, to fund a unit to respond to medical aid calls within the city. Most fire departments would prefer that all of its firefighters are also trained as paramedics but the number of people interested in training for both tends to be smaller and more aggressively recruited by agencies up and down the state. By creating a separate department, Interim Fire Chief Sewell said he hopes to recruit more paramedics to his department who may want to become firefighters later on, rather than waiting on firefighters to take on the additional hours of training or risk them leaving for other agencies. 

More than two-thirds of the fire department’s calls for service are for Emergency Medical Services (EMS), commonly referred to as medical aids, according to the department’s 2018 annual report. Interim Chief Sewell said phase 1 of the plan, which should have been implemented in 2018-19, calls for three paramedics, a supervisor and one vehicle. The vehicle will be staffed by two paramedics from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Phase 2 of the plan is set to begin in 2022-23 and will add six more paramedics and another vehicle to provide a 24-hour, 365 days per year unit.

“At the end of the day, are we saving money by providing a more efficient system?” Councilmember Greg Collins asked. 

Chief Sewell responded, “I believe we are. And we are upholding what the taxpayers voted for.”

The program is estimated to cost $8.9 million over 9 years and will be funded through the Essential Services fund, which comprises 90% of Measure N sales tax monies. The actual cost of the unit will average $400,000 in Measure N funds for the next six fiscal years and half a million from 2025-26 through 2027-28, the latter is the same year the Essential Services fund will spend down its projected annual surplus to zero. 

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