KCFD outlines plan to cut down on ambulance response times

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - A few years after merging ambulance services with the Kansas City Fire Department, response times still fall under the benchmarks of the city and the department. Paramedics are overworked and the growing pains of logistics continue.

Now a task force is ready with four pilot projects to try to fix inefficiencies and get response times down.

Interim KCFD Chief Paul Berardi presented the four projects to the public safety committee, chaired by councilman John Sharp.

The first pilot project would allow one vehicle instead of two to respond to an emergency vehicle when neither a "advanced life-saving" equipment ambulance nor transportation to a hospital is needed. Right now, both an ALS ambulance and a BLS (basic life-saving) fire department vehicle must respond. This project would park the ambulance when it isn't needed.

The second pilot project would fix a significant frustration. There are currently 40 paramedics that ride on pumpers at any given time for the fire department. But when they arrive at a fire, they are not allowed to work as paramedics.

"Kansas City protocol did not allow them to do so," said Berardi. "It isn't as easy as saying 'just allow them to do so' because they weren't strategically placed throughout the city."

Now, certain paramedics will be placed on certain pumpers on a set schedule, allowing for the change. Berardi said this was so important because dispatchers don't send out individual personnel but the structures (i.e. pumpers, engines) as a whole.

The third pilot project would use federal grand money to upgrade the training of 15 firefighter paramedics and license them as EMTIs or EMT - Intermediate. Their advanced training would allow them to perform procedures like intubation and starting IV treatments for patients. This advanced EMT training would help close the gap between EMTs and paramedics. Paramedics, however, still would have far more medical training. 

The fourth pilot project would create more BLS transfer ambulances. Currently, an ALS ambulance must transfer any patient from a hospital. The BLS ambulances will be allowed to take non-emergency patients from the hospital to a lesser-care facility like a nursing home or their residence, reducing the strain on already-limited ALS ambulances.

Each of these pilot projects will start and end at different times to better evaluate their effectiveness.

City officials want response times to be 9 minutes or less at least 90 percent of the time. Current department response times are at 80 percent.

For the city's geographical size, it is mostly outlying areas like corners of the Northland that suffer higher response times.

Michael Cambiano, firefighter and president of Local 42, wants more ALS ambulances and says his paramedics are overworked.

John Sharp, chair of the public safety committee, thinks this strategic plan should have been implemented before the city cut the department's budget.

But Interim Chief Berardi said, "I reserve the right to say we do need more or we do not need more."

"I think we can find efficiencies in our current resources," he added.

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