Calif. Fire Chief: 'We're a Medical Department'

Newport Beach Fire Chief Scott Poster says 80 percent of the calls are EMS-related.

June 06--The Newport Beach Fire Department is in the middle of an evolution, Chief Scott Poster told a roomful of residents Thursday morning.

During this month's Wake Up! Newport event, sponsored by the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce, the chief explained that his department is shifting its focus from being solely a firefighting force.

"We're actually a fire department that's mostly [emergency medical services]," Poster said. "We're a medical department."

The department is intent on keeping its ability to knock down fires, but 80% of the calls firefighters field are health-related, according to the chief.

"You hear our firefighters not talking about the last fire they went on," he said. "They're talking about, 'I just saved that stroke patient.'"

To balance the two roles, the agency is putting dozens of its firefighters through paramedic training to bolster the small number who already have advanced medical training.

"We want to put a paramedic on every single apparatus we have in the city," Poster said.

By the end of this year, the Fire Department hopes to have 42 of its 148 full-time personnel certified as paramedics.

During his talk to the crowd, Poster also defended his department's efficiency.

He referred to a proposal from early this year to outsource lifeguards at Corona del Mar State Beach.

City officials ultimately canned the plan when they discovered that privatizing the jobs would cost more than keeping them in-house.

The Fire Department spends about $4 million out of its $37-million budget each year on lifeguards.

Last year, lifeguards pulled about 4,000 people from the water during rescues, according to Poster

"One thousand bucks a person," Poster said. "... I hate to say the value thing, but I just want to let you know that's what we're working with in value."

Copyright 2014 - Daily Pilot, Costa Mesa, Calif.