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Public Safety

Amidst Rising 911 Calls, Firefighters In El Cajon Deploy 'Squad' Truck To Keep Up With Demand

A Heartland Fire Rescue firefighter shows off the customized Squad 6 truck the department purchased six months ago, Aug. 21, 2018.
Kris Arciaga/KPBS
A Heartland Fire Rescue firefighter shows off the customized Squad 6 truck the department purchased six months ago, Aug. 21, 2018.

An increase in 911 calls is presenting a challenge for firefighters in El Cajon. To deal with the increase, Heartland Fire Rescue is employing a new cost-saving measure.

Instead of buying a new engine, the department purchased a pickup truck and custom outfitted it.

"We’re not providing a lower level of service by any means," said Heartland Fire Rescue Engineer and Paramedic Mark Casey. "We’re just trying to do it as efficiently and as financially responsible as possible."

For the last six months, a two-man team has been using the squad truck to respond to an increase in calls for medical aid. Heartland Fire Rescue said 90 percent of its 911 calls are medically related — and those calls are increasing every year.

"Obviously we didn’t have a fire service problem," Casey said. "Some agencies they implement squads... until they have the ability to get a fire station and a fire engine in that specific area. Well we have a fire engine in that specific area (El Cajon). So at the present time it’s not necessary to put in another one (engine). The best and most financially responsible thing for us to do in that specific area was to add a, in this case a squad, to help augment those lower level calls."

Compared to a fire engine that runs upwards of $700,000 — this truck cost $82,000. It gets nearly triple the fuel economy compared to a fire engine and carries some of the same equipment, minus a hose.

"A fire engine is advanced life support (ALS), the 'Squad 6' is also advanced life support as well," Casey said. "So they still carry the same level of equipment. They both have a heart monitor, trauma bag, airway bag — all of the same medical components that you would see on a fire engine is on the squad as well."

Heartland Fire says Squad 6 has already responded to more than 2,000 calls. And responses for full-sized engines from El Cajon Station 6 are down 50 percent.

VIDEO: Amidst Rising 911 Calls, Firefighters In El Cajon Deploy 'Squad' Truck To Keep Up With Demand
Amidst Rising 911 Calls, Firefighters In El Cajon Deploy 'Squad' Truck To Keep Up With Demand
Instead of a fire engine, one of the newest emergency vehicles in El Cajon is Heartland Fire Rescue's 'Squad 6' truck.