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The Los Angeles Fire Department is a full-spectrum life safety agency protecting approximately 4 million people who live and work in America’s second-largest city. The LAFD’s 3,376 uniformed personnel and 333 civilian support staff address multiple aspects of life safety, including fire prevention, firefighting, emergency medical care, technical rescue, public education and community service.
A professionally trained staff of 1,035 firefighters (including 195 paramedics) are on duty at all times at 103 neighborhood fire stations strategically located across the department’s 470-square-mile jurisdiction.
LAFD EMS History
The Los Angeles Fire Department has provided emergency medical services (EMS) for decades. The first fire department ambulance was implemented in 1927. By 1931, there were six fire department ambulances serving the metropolitan and harbor areas of the city.
The City of Los Angeles has provided public-sector emergency ambulance service since the early 1900s. The service originated with the Los Angeles Police Department. In the mid-1930s, the service was transferred to the city’s Receiving Hospital Department, where it continued as the Police Ambulance Service.
Private ambulance companies under city contract provided emergency service in the San Fernando Valley until 1957 and in West Los Angeles until 1973. The fire department introduced rescue ambulance service in the San Fernando Valley in 1955 by staffing six rescue ambulances with firefighters. The department introduced two-person squad units in 1957 to respond to EMS incidents in many parts of the city.
On July 1, 1970, the Receiving Hospital Department was abolished, and the emergency ambulance service was transferred to the fire department. With the transfer came 121 personnel, including a chief ambulance attendant, several senior ambulance attendants, ambulance attendants and ambulance drivers. They wore gold badges and police uniforms, worked eight-hour shifts, responded from police stations and had police radios in their ambulances. These new LAFD employees were neither police officers nor firefighters, and their medical training was only advanced first aid. They began working 24-hour shifts on a three-platoon schedule in 1973.
In 1970, a pilot program to train firefighters as paramedics was being tested in Los Angeles County. In September of that year, the first LAFD paramedic ambulance went into service at Fire Station 53 in San Pedro staffed with dual-function firefighter/ paramedics. Within eight years, 37 paramedic ambulances were in service, each staffed with two single-function civilian paramedics.
The 1970s were not without growing pains for the fire department’s EMS program. The most significant problem was attrition; from 1970 to 1983, the department hired and trained 447 rescue ambulance members and lost 265 members.
In April 1973, the first Rescue Ambulance (RA) Drill Tower of civilian rescue ambulance personnel was held at Fire Station 40 on Terminal Island with Captain Donald Anthony (now a retired deputy chief) as the drillmaster. Thirty-three civilian recruit classes were held between 1973 and 1990. From 1973 through 1992, virtually all LAFD rescue ambulances and paramedic positions were staffed with civilian EMT-Is and paramedics. In 1978, department history was made when the first three women were hired as paramedic trainees.
In July 1980, the City Council authorized the hiring of a chief paramedic, a senior paramedic assigned as the department’s EMS training officer and 24-hour field supervision by senior paramedics to improve the management of the EMS Program. Nine senior paramedics, assigned to the three division offices, responded to major EMS incidents and helped the division commanders manage EMS activities. The chief paramedic and all senior paramedics were single-function civilian paramedics.
In 1981, an emergency physician, Dr. Marshall Rockwell, was hired to assist with the management of EMS in the department. The current medical advisor is Dr. Marc Eckstein.