Calif. city FD no longer running ambulances due to staff shortage
Fire department officials said the decision was made due to long-term retention issues in combination with the ongoing COVID-19 crisis
Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, Ontario, Calif.
LA VERNE, Calif. — The city of La Verne will no longer use its own ambulances, the Fire Department announced this week.
The decision was made by interim fire Chief Devon Leonard and the La Verne Firefighters’ Association, Local 3624, after recent losses of department personnel, retention issues and the ongoing coronavirus crisis, the department said in a Facebook post on Wednesday, April 15.
Though the decision is understandable, Andy Glaze, union president and a captain in the Fire Department, said Friday it is one that puts the La Verne community at higher risk.
“With our low personnel numbers and this crisis, we had to make changes to our operational model,” said Glaze, who has been with the department for eight years. “This definitely doesn’t help protect the public but it’s the reality of the situation.”
Moving forward, the department will contract with Care Ambulance Service, which the city has been using in some areas for the past 12 weeks, for transportation services. All firefighters in the city are trained paramedics so those on fire engines will also be able to help with medical aid.
Times have been tough at the department after two firefighters were exposed to the coronavirus in March and multiple firefighters left for other agencies, Glaze said. La Verne fire currently employs 22 personnel.
In January, the city announced it was temporarily closing La Verne Fire Station No. 3, located at 5100 Esperanza Drive, until new hires were hired. But that hasn’t happened yet, and the anticipated six-week closure has stretched to 12 weeks. Glaze said the department would need to hire six new members to reopen station No. 3, but he doesn’t see that happening any time soon.
“We definitely have some challenges ahead for us and there are concerns here,” he said. “We are in desperate times.”
La Verne Mayor Tim Hepburn said Friday he wasn’t pleased to hear about the department’s decisions to cut the ambulance service but it was a necessary one considering the circumstances. The department doesn’t have enough personnel for the ambulance service despite the city actively trying to recruit new firefighters.
“We’ve lost in the neighborhood of at least 10 to 12 firefighters in the last few years and it’s made things tough,” said Hepburn, who took office on April 6. “We just keep chipping away and it makes us all uncomfortable.”
Glaze said morale at the department has been low for the past month. Firefighters are stressed due to the coronavirus, he said, fearing they may be exposed to the virus and take it home to their own families.
“It honestly takes a toll on you after a while and we are worried about ourselves and our families,” Glaze said. “You know if we can’t do our jobs right and if we can’t keep the public safe, then what’s the point.”
At the City Council meeting on Monday, April 20, Chief Leonard is expected to address the operational changes and discuss some of the department’s issues, including retention rates and new hires.
©2020 the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin (Ontario, Calif.)