Calif. Chief: Send Pickups Not Engines to EMS Calls

June 5, 2013
If Stockton's chief gets his way, there will be less wear and tear on fire engines.

June 05--STOCKTON -- By year's end, city Fire Chief Jeff Piechura wants to change the way his department responds to low-level medical calls.

Rather than sending three firefighters on a large, fuel-guzzling fire engine to every medical call, Piechura proposes putting a more nimble, heavy-duty pickup in the rotation.

According to statistics sent daily to The Record, the Fire Department regularly responds to 85 or more medical calls each 24-hour period.

If the City Council adopts Piechura's proposal, the change could save wear and tear on the expensive engines and reduce costs overall to the city.

"It's supposed to be an agile, adaptive resource," Piechura said. "That's the plan."

Piechura made his pitch during a City Council study session this week on Stockton's $521 million budget for the new fiscal year beginning July 1. Of that figure, the city's general fund amounts to $160 million, a 2.3 percent increase from last year.

Police Chief Eric Jones also requested three more staffers -- one to work the evidence locker and two crime data analysts to support Project Ceasefire and to read live crime statistics to deploy officers into hot crime areas.

The city's budget is technically called a pendency plan because it temporarily suspends $22 million in debt payment under the protection of bankruptcy.

City staff is expected to ask the council to adopt the budget June 25, including Piechura's proposal, which could add the new truck and two new positions.

Piechura proposes launching the experiment at a cost in the first year of about $450,000, including the purchase of a heavy-duty pickup outfitted with boxes and hiring a paramedic and emergency medical technician.

In the second year, if the City Council likes the results and chooses to continue, the cost would be $320,000 to pay for vehicle maintenance and two salaries. Sales taxes collected under Measure W would pay for it.

Called an Alternative Response Program, the two-person truck will work 40 peak hours each week in the center of town, an area which typically receives the most calls, Piechura said.

The city started to use a similar squad in the 1980s, but that was gradually phased out as the department moved to larger engines, Piechura said.

The proposal will save money, Piechura said. Last year, the Stockton Fire Department received 40,213 calls. Of those, 21,400 were medical calls and 9,000 of the medical calls were low level, where a person has a non-emergency injury or illness.

That category of calls would be suited for the two-person truck rather than sending a large engine, with a purchase price of $500,000, or a ladder engine costing closer to $1 million, Piechura said.

Optimally, Stockton could use up to four smaller outfits, Piechura said, with the first beginning to roll on Stockton's streets as soon as October.

Contact reporter Scott Smith at (209) 546-8296 or [email protected]. Visit his blog at

Copyright 2013 - The Record, Stockton, Calif.

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