Local News

Orange County's EMS seeking additional staffing to handle calls

Posted April 19, 2010 10:40 p.m. EDT
Updated April 19, 2010 11:52 p.m. EDT

— Orange County 911 handles 1,200 police, fire and rescue calls a day. The county’s director of emergency medical services says staff shortages make it difficult to respond to an emergency in a timely matter.

“It's very serious. It has gotten to the point of being critical,” EMS Director Frank Montes de Oca said Monday.

Montes de Oca said it’s not just 911 operators who are under staffed, but that the county’s four full-time and one part-time ambulances are no longer enough to cover the 400 square miles they serve.

Montes de Oca told the Orange County Assembly of Governments in March that 220 times last year, someone called 911 for help but there was no ambulance to send. Firefighters had to respond to the calls until paramedics arrived.

“That is not their primary mission in life. Our primary mission is patient care, patient transport. So we really are impacting their ability to provide fire protection in their jurisdictions,” Montes de Oca said.

Montes de Oca said the ambulance shortage has also led to longer response times.

“The American Heart Association says that within about four to six minutes, if the heart stops, and the breathing stops, and the oxygenation to the brain ceases, than irreversible brain damage can occur,” he said.

But in the suburban and rural areas of Orange County, Montes de Oca says getting help to someone that quick is unrealistic.

“Our goal is to have it in 12 minutes. Right now, we're at 17 minutes. That’s not acceptable to us,” he added.

In the meantime, emergency medical services are prioritizing 911 calls because of crew and ambulance shortages. The most serious calls get answered first.

“We're holding our own now, but we want to make sure the public knows that we are addressing all those issues very aggressively,” Montes de Oca explained.

The EMS department is asking lawmakers to fund 29 new positions, and a full-time ambulance, at a cost of more than $1.5 million per year.