A Santa Clara County civil grand jury on Wednesday called for a wholesale rethinking of fire departments and emergency responses, arguing that sending firefighters to what are now mostly medical calls is outdated and wasteful.
A report by the watchdog panel found that 70 percent of fire department calls are medical emergencies, and just 4 percent are fire-related. But even so, firefighters respond as if they are heading to a fire, sending a crew of three or more on a truck or engine costing an average of $500,000 -- five times the cost of an ambulance.
Typically only one of the three arriving firefighters has medical training, the report said. That creates a "mismatch between service needed and service provided," with fire departments deploying "personnel who are overtrained to meet the need" -- that is, paramedics also trained as firefighters.
"Taxpayers can no longer afford to fund the status quo," the report said. "Using firefighter-paramedics in firefighting equipment as first responders to all non-police emergencies is unnecessarily costly when less expensive paramedics on ambulances possess the skills needed to address the 96 percent of calls that are not fire-related."
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