SFFD Staffing Changes May Slow Paramedic Access in Bernal Heights


Neighbor Will emailed Bernalwood to share some concerns about emergency medical team staffing at SFFD Station 32 in Holly Park. He also calls your attention to a Fire Commission meeting that’s happening tonight:

There are some changes afoot with how the San Francisco Fire Department assigns paramedics to neighborhoods, and Station 32 in Holly Park is one of the fire houses that are affected.

Until this week, Station 32 was “high priority” enough to have an Advanced Life Support (ALS) engine. This meant that one of the engine crew was always a paramedic. However, in the last few days the SFFD has reorganized this priority list, which in effect means that Engine 32 will almost never have a paramedic assigned. Bernal Height’s engine will become Basic Life Support (BLS) only. This means that medical calls will be attended to by an EMT until an ALS engine or an ambulance arrives with a paramedic on board. Paramedics are trained and licensed to administer life-saving drugs; EMTs are not.

Particularly in the light of the poor response times of SFFD ambulances that have been widely reported, Bernal residents should be concerned about this sudden change in paramedic coverage. Someone in the neighborhood in cardiac arrest will now have to wait for an ALS engine from Station 11 (26th @ Church), Station 9 (Jerrold @ Upton), or for one of the overstretched ambulances in order to receive the drugs and paramedic care that may save their life.

A further concern is that the engine at 32 is a compact apparatus which is able to maneuver well in the narrow streets of Bernal Heights. The regular sized engines which will be rushing to the neighborhood have a far more difficult time negotiating these streets, which will potentially affect the response time to a medical emergency.

I am very close to an employee of SFFD; they do not wish to publicly question or criticize the Department because of the fear of disciplinary action. I think it would be great if somebody from Bernalwood called the Department to find out what is behind these changes. Concerned citizens might want to ask questions at an SF Fire Commission meeting; the next one will take place on October 9 at 4pm at SFFD Headquarters, 698 2nd Street.

PHOTO: Engine 11 in Bernal Heights, by Telstar Logistics

5 thoughts on “SFFD Staffing Changes May Slow Paramedic Access in Bernal Heights

  1. Unfortunately I am one of the disabled that has had to use this service many times. I have never had to wait. They are always very courteous and kind and arrive in five minutes or less. The times are always early evening except one time which was about 5AM. They take me to CPMC as that is where all my records and doctors are and I am known there. I do not understand the complaints as the trucks and ambulances always arrive instantly. I only had a problem one time with the technician and the fire dept. made me report it. I did under protest. These guys are unbelievable and I think we have the best service in the USA.

  2. I’m not concerned. I have been certified in CPR for 16 years and I know enough that even I can save the life of someone in cardiac arrest. To criticize then dept because they won’t be having a paramedic on board is ridiculous.
    Also everyone should make it a priority to learn basic CPR. To just depend on the fire dept and or a paramedic to come give your loved one CPR is reckless.

  3. I appreciate the passion of the first two comments. If I may be so bold as to speak for Bernalwood: I don’t read this post as a criticism of the Fire Deparment at all. I read it as a public service announcement regarding a vital community service.

    The issue is too complex to go into here, but, for the first commenter, the way you normally use the EMS system will not affected by this change. And your words of support for the SFFD are greatly appreciated.

    To the second commenter: I applaud you for being trained in CPR. Everyone who is physically capable should get certified. In the event of cardiac arrest, without immediate bystander CPR, the survival rate is essential zero.

    But I urge you to reconsider the rest of your comment. First, it is important to be recertified in CPR regularly. Best practices change as our knowledge grows. In real life, CPR is grueling, violent and ugly by necessity. Many family members refuse to try. If you ever have to do it, you will need relief ASAP.

    You’ve also missed something more basic: CPR only buys a little time. It cannot resuscitate a victim! They need to have vomit suctioned from their airway, be intubated, have IV drugs administered, be put on a monitor and possibly defibrillated, all while performing compressions and loading for transport. Can you provide these interventions?

    If a Bernalwood reader gets nothing else from my very long reply, please remember this: THE MOST CRUCIAL FACTOR IN SURVIVAL IS HOW QUICKLY A PARAMEDIC GETS ON SCENE. Fire Engines get there first. Ambulance response times are secondary.

    Second, Eden, it isn’t a criticism of the Fire Department, per se, to point out that every Engine doesn’t currently have a paramedic on the crew. Again, I applaud your confidence, but I ask you to consider: the heart isn’t the only vital organ. Example: Asthma and diabetes may not usually evoke fear; but they are more common emergencies than heart attacks, and potentially just as fatal. Google “insulin shock.” SFFD responds to those calls constantly. There’s no CPR-equivalent for starting IVs and administering dextrose. Only paramedics can do it. Only paramedics can intubate and provide advanced drug therapy for an acute asthmatic who fails to respond to their inhaler and can suffocate within minutes.

    It is not reckless to depend on the Fire/EMS system. That is why it exists. The problem is that San Francisco doesn’t currently meet the nationally recognized standard of having 100% ALS Engines. Every other major city nationally (and in the Bay Area) complies with this model.

    The “mainstream media” have largely missed the point.

    Bernalwood got the issue exactly right.

    +1 for the New Journalism!

    If your eyes haven’t glazed over, here is an example:

    If your nearest Engine is BLS, you will wait longer for the nearest ALS Engine. Bernal is served by Engine 32 on Holly Park, E42 (on San Bruno), E11 (on 26th), E9 (on Jerrold). The last 3 are (for now) ALS. But if they are already on a call, or at a fire, you now wait for the THIRD nearest Engine. And that Engine’s neighborhood is now dependent on another Engine, etc. It is a ripple effect and it is real.

  4. I DO understand and get trained in CPR and First Aid every year. I Also don’t remember mentioning that I am capable of doing the duties of an EMT or paramedic. That’s overreaching. I do know some things about life threatening situations as I was a primary caregiver for a loved one with Pancreatic Cancer. I do think it’s important to have the best care within minutes of an emergency event. I was simply sating that it’s important for everyone to have basic knowledge when it comes to emergencies. Standing there watching your loved one die while we wait and pray for a Paramedic is reckless at best (unless you’re physically or mentally incapable).

    Maybe it’s just that I feel a huge sense of empathy and person obligation to help my fellow human beings.

    On a lighter note I would like to hear as to why this switch happened. Was it funds? Was it logistics? Was it the low incident of life threatening emergencies in Bernal?

    • I commend your compassion and foresight. You set an example everyone should follow. Overall, I believe we are on the same page.

      As to why this switch happened… it is indeed a mystery. The person who authorized the reconfiguration provided no explanation of their decision.

      But it really doesn’t matter. This change just might accidentally achieve a Greater Good. If the affected districts finally bring attention to the long-standing problem of only having 30 out of 42 Engines be ALS, and demand that every neighborhood receive equal treatment, maybe it will finally get fixed.

      Like every other department, SFFD ultimately answers to City Hall.

      City Hall answers to YOU.

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