LA County Fire sees massive bump in calls for medical care

L.A. County Fire has seen a big bump in calls for emergency medical care.
L.A. County Fire has seen a big bump in calls for emergency medical care.
Photo by Jon Matthies via Flickr Creative Commons

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L.A. County Fire Department paramedics are exhausted after seeing a massive bump in calls for emergency medical care over the past three years.

Data from 2015 shows the department received 303,151 emergency medical calls, a 32 percent jump over 2012. Areas that were busy before have gotten ever more overloaded, said Fire Inspector Richard Licon, like Inglewood, South Central Los Angeles, the Antelope Valley, and Gardena.

"There's a lot of fatigue on paramedics," said Licon, who worked in Division VI, which serves Inglewood, Hawthorn, and swaths of South L.A. "I'm still catching up on sleep, and I've been gone for a year."

Icon said much of the bump could probably be attributed to population booms in the areas. 

"I was in Inglewood for seven years, and it felt more and more crowded every year," he said. "I think everyone sees the construction. It's going up instead of sideways."

L.A. County Fire Chief Daryl Osby suggested the county's rising homeless population could also help explain the rise. 

"As it relates to our homeless population, in many instances, our firefighters and our paramedics are their medical care providers," he said. 

Osby made his comments at a public forum Tuesday evening where L.A. County Sheriff Jim McDonnell announced a new draft policy for sheriff's deputies interacting with homeless. 

Under the proposed policy, deputies would not arrest homeless people for low-level crimes except as a last resort. Instead, they'd be encouraged to try to find services for homeless who need them, like placement in mental health facilities or shelters. 

The 2016 homeless census counted nearly 28,000 homeless in the city of L.A. and an additional 19,000 in the county at large—that's a nearly 6 percent rise from the previous year. 

Osby said L.A. County Fire is undergoing a re-thinking of its own to address the growing number of homeless and the broader shift in calls for service.

Fire Station 33 in Lancaster, he said, is the second busiest fire station in the country, receiving over 10,000 calls a year. 

"In all the areas of the county, the need for us to improve our services, the need for us to work across boundaries, it's going to take an active, holistic effort," he said. 

As an example, he said, the county is working on starting a pilot program in the Antelope Valley that would dispatch nurse practitioners on some calls to address the growing need for emergency medical care.