Los Angeles County firefighters are transporting patients to hospitals in their trucks rather than ambulances, an unprecedented move required because of surging coronavirus cases within the county Fire Department and among paramedic companies.
That’s according to acting Assistant Chief Brian Bennet, who said during a recent report to the Carson City Council that 450 Los Angeles County firefighters have tested positive for the coronavirus and are off work, putting a massive strain on the emergency response system, both in the South Bay town and across the county.
“What that means is the firefighters that are working in the city of Carson and around the county are being asked to work extra hours, extra days,” Bennet said Tuesday, Jan. 4, adding that despite the staffing shortage, the department has not reduced any services. “But our folks, just as our partners in the Sheriff’s department, are being stressed and are at their limit.”
The surge in coronavirus cases across the county, fueled by the omicron variant, has also hit paramedics, as well as hospitals, Bennet said.
“An already stressed system in the emergency departments is now working on a limited staff with more of the residents coming into the hospitals,” he said. “And the ambulance companies — same thing, they’re now affected with probably about 50% of their employees off with COVID.”
The staffing shortages at ambulances companies in the area have gotten so bad, Bennet said, that the Los Angeles County fire chief has approved an emergency transport plan, under which responding firefighters are now transporting patients to hospitals in fire trucks. That move, Bennet said, is “unheard of.”
And firefighters responding to an emergency that only requires basic care or first aid, Bennet said, are telling residents to essentially arrange their own transportation to the hospital.
“They’re encouraging the residents to either find a private vehicle or alternative methods to get to the hospital so that we can save those ambulances for the critical patients in your communities,” Bennet said. “This is kind of unprecedented.”
This surge will likely get worse before it gets better, Bennet said. The county Fire Department has established an incident management team to handle any staffing shortages related to the pandemic and is doing everything possible to ensure no services are further impacted, he said.
“Unfortunately, probably the next couple of weeks are going to be very trying for the Fire Department, emergency rooms, and ambulance companies,” Bennet said. “As of right now, everyone is stepping up, working hard, and trying to get through this.”