EMS policy questioned

Chief Randall Bradley spoke about a county policy that prevented Tracy firefighters and paramedics from responding to some medical emergency calls at a press conference in May 2017.

Legislation that will take effect with the new year in 2020 assures the city that local first-responders will no longer have to stand by while private emergency medical agencies respond to some calls.

The new law, which takes effect Jan. 1, resolves an issue that came to light in 2016 when Tracy Fire Department Chief Randall Bradley learned that 911 dispatchers had been bypassing local first-responders in favor of private emergency medical services.

SB-438, which overwhelmingly passed the California State Assembly and Senate in September and gained Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature Oct. 1, ensures that public agencies such as the South San Joaquin County Fire Authority, which oversees Tracy’s city and rural firefighters, will be among the first emergency response agencies to get all 911 calls.

“I’m excited that this legislation actually passed,” Bradley told the Tracy City Council on Tuesday. “It was driven by the city of Tracy and the South County Fire Authority back in 2016.”

Bradley reported that, in 2016, the San Joaquin County Emergency Medical Services Agency had restricted its dispatch calls for minor medical emergencies to American Medical Response, a private ambulance company.

That policy effectively excluded local public safety agencies, including the Tracy Fire Department, from some “lower level” emergency calls, according to Bradley’s report to the council.

The result, he said, was longer response times, in some cases half an hour or more, and the 911 dispatchers or ambulance crews often were not fully aware of the severity of an emergency.

“We had a couple of incidents that involved fatalities and we became aware of a policy in the county that did not allow us to respond to all medical emergencies,” Bradley told the council.

One such case happened in the spring of 2016, when a Tracy woman died because the initial call was reported as “shortness of breath,” and Tracy firefighters were not initially dispatched to the incident.

Bradley met with the county emergency medical services agency from late 2016 through most of 2017 to resolve the issue. While the city and county reached an agreement, Bradley said it remained a contentious topic that needed statewide resolution.

He worked through the California League of Cities and the California Firefighters Association to create a legislative remedy, but that didn’t gain traction until February of this year, when State Sen. Robert Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, introduced the bill, with 13th District Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman, D-Stockton, who represents Tracy, as the co-author.

Bradley said the new law permanently resolves the local issue and also makes that resolution a statewide policy.

“It prevents the county from requiring us to utilize private companies out of county for dispatch services,” Bradley said. “We get to determine our own dispatch systems and priorities.”

“This is a big win for us,” he added. “The city of Tracy has received a lot of accolades from the California Fire Chiefs Association and the California Professional Firefighters Association concerning being the tip of the spear in pushing this legislation forward and being the voice and face of the legislation, along with Stockton.”

Mayor Robert Rickman said he was impressed with the teamwork it took — including a petition drive led by Edgewood residents that collected 5,000 signatures from local residents urging legislators to change the law — to get the bill passed.

“We’re a town of 94,000 people and we stood up to what we thought was right, we stood up to our principles and fought against a bigger entity, the county, and ended up winning,” Rickman said. “Another big issue is about having local control, cities having local control over their own resources, instead of bureaucrats in some office who have no sense of our community and what we’re capable of.”

Contact Bob Brownne at brownne@tracypress.com or 830-4227.

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