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San Diego's Ambulance Service Assesses Slow Response Times


Executives of the company that provides ambulance services in San Diego said Wednesday that they are assessing performance issues that caused it to fall out of compliance with city mandates on response times.

At a hearing before the City Council's Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee, Michael Simonsen of American Medical Response said company officials are increasing staffing levels while the study takes place.

AMR assumed ownership of the city's ambulance contractor, Rural/Metro Corp., earlier Wednesday.

The firm is required under a five-year contract with the city to meet certain response times in four zones 90 percent of the time. However, data from July, August and September showed that the benchmarks were met between 84 percent and 87 percent of the time.

Councilwoman Marti Emerald, who chairs the council committee, said the shortfall was a matter of "grave concern" for the city.

"We have brought in experienced operations personnel to identify and address current system performance issues," Simonsen said. "Once AMR has the opportunity to fully assess the San Diego system, we will be able to communicate a more detailed action plan."

Company officials said four new medics started jobs Monday and seven others are in field training. They plan to hire eight more.

Simonsen said the slow first quarter response times stemmed from a 7 percent spike in the number of emergency calls. The call volume of the San Diego market usually increases 1 percent to 2 percent a year, he said.

However, Jennifer Restle, president of the local EMS branch of the National Association of Government Employees, said low wages and long hours caused numerous workers to leave what was Rural/Metro, now AMR.

In another report heard by the committee regarding emergency response times, San Diego Fire-Rescue Department Chief Javier Mainar said a pilot program featuring a two-man fast response squad placed in Encanto reduced the time it takes to reach the scene of a fire or medical aid by nearly 30 percent.

The squad works in one of nine areas identified in a consultant's report as needing improved service by the department.

It took an average of 5 minutes and 5 seconds to respond to a little more than 1,700 emergency calls during the one-year experiment, an improvement of more than 2 minutes, according to a SDFRD report.

Mainar said the city plans to place a second fast response squad to cover the southern section of University City by the beginning of next year.

Separately, the committee tentatively approved spending $250,000 on a feasibility study on how to fix or replace a dilapidated trailer that houses the San Diego Police Department's Traffic Division.

The 19,000-square-foot structure adjacent to the department's Eastern Division station in Serra Mesa is beset by termite damage, cracks, water damage and poor plumbing, according to city officials.

"The structure is now crumbling from within, and beyond the need of simple repairs and maintenance," said Brian Marvel, the head of the San Diego Police Officers Association.

City officials are also concerned that functional needs are no longer met by the building, which is used by more than 100 traffic cops, 147 special event traffic controllers, 64 parking enforcement personnel, 10 support staff and members of the public.

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