City Weighing Options to Address EMS Unit Shortage - KiiiTV.com South Texas, Corpus Christi, Coastal Bend

City Weighing Options to Address EMS Unit Shortage

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CORPUS CHRISTI (Kiii News) -

Local health professionals say an overwhelming number of medical calls in recent months has put a strain on the City's ambulance service.

Corpus Christi Fire Chief Robert Rocha is already considering possible solutions. One of which is causing concern among first responders.

Firefighters said they are being stretched to the limit already, working so much over-time to cover shifts that, ultimately, lives could be in danger. What is being proposed, they said, amounts to taking from one to help the other.

"We're looking at having to take people off fire trucks to put them on an ambulance, or spread ourselves even thinner," said Steve Bowers, vice president of the Firefighters Association. "And we're at bare bones now, and it's dangerous to us as well as the community."

Bowers said that the City wants to keep its daily minimum of 96 firefighters on duty to man 22 fire engines, 9 ambulances and four supervisor positions. Each fire engine is currently manned by four firefighters, but some have only three.

One of the proposals being considered would cut the number to three for all engines, and that, firefighters said, is not a safe alternative.

"Last year, I think our call volume, EMS wise, was over 43,000 calls in one year," Bowers said. "Handling that with nine ambulances is a lot. Right now, there's a push that we need two more ambulances, if not three more ambulances, riding the streets every day, and to do that, it takes four or six additional personnel everyday."

Therein lies the problem: not enough manpower. Fire Chief Robert Rocha said budgetary constraints mandate only 96 firefighters on duty at any give time.

"I can't go above 96, and what I have to do is look at all my options," Rocha said. "I have to look at call volume to see the number of times those apparatus are running."

For example, downtown gets more medical calls than out at the Island, so one firefighter might be transferred out of that area to supplement the greater need. Every 24 hours, Corpus Christi's EMS units respond to between 110-150 emergency calls, and it is Chief Rocha's call to make sure the needs are met.

"I have to look at all the options, Rudy. The thing this city doesn't have, is it doesn't have a lot of money to dedicate to, you know, 98 or 100, which is one of the things I'm asking for," Rocha said. "I'm asking for those increases, but if they're not readily available to me right now, I've got to address the issue now, not later."

"The needs of the Fire Department are the needs of the community," Assistant City Manager Herb Canales said.

While sympathizing with Chief Rocha, Canales said a new $3 million grant for the current 34-person Firefighter Academy will help, but not solve the problem completely.

"I mean, we got this one academy. They're going to have to look pretty soon, that's my view, and do another one, maybe next year," Canales said. "I don't know if the funding is going to be in place for that."

One of the EMS units based on the city's westside is among the top 21 in the nation for responding to medical emergencies, similar to the number of calls in cities like Los Angeles and New York. Even a Facebook posting claims some of these paramedics are sleep deprived and "walk around like zombies."

"You got guys making 25 and 30 calls in a 24-hour period," Bowers said. "That means they're not eating. They're not sleeping. There's very little downtime, so at the end of a day, that's detrimental to everybody involved."

Incidentally, 3News has been covering this EMS shortage issue since 1999 and 2000, when the demand went up by 80-percent.

On Thursday, Chief Rocha hopes to add an additional two EMS units to handle the extra medical calls.