Cal Tahoe is on the job
Ambulance service at South Shore switches from private to public ownership Saturday.
“We’ve had this in mind for 10 years,” said South Lake Tahoe Fire Division Chief Michael Chandler. “There is a lot of synergy obviously. When the team all comes from one place … everyone will be right here talking about the call and how they can do it better.”
The California Tahoe Emergency Services Operations Authority replaces Lake Tahoe Ambulance, which will cease operations after serving the South Shore since 1972. Cal Tahoe has three member agencies – the city of South Lake Tahoe, the North Tahoe Fire Protection District and the Lake Valley Fire Protection District – and a new contract with El Dorado County.
“I think it is amazing when you can get four political groups together like this, said Dave Huber, chairman of Cal Tahoe “We have been working on trying to enhance the system for a long time, and it’s here.”
“It’s a significant step forward for the people and service of this area,” said Russ Potts, a Cal Tahoe board member.
The new agency signed a dispatch service agreement with the city Thursday morning. While the ambulances will be based on the South Shore, handling calls from Emerald Bay to Kirkwood to Camp Sacramento, administrative duties will be handled in Tahoe City.
One ambulance will be stationed in Meyers, with two other units at fire stations in South Lake Tahoe: one at Ski Run Boulevard and Pioneer Trail, the other on U.S. Highway 50 near the “Y.”
Putting the ambulance service into fire departments means some firefighters will be expected to also serve as paramedics.
South Lake Tahoe and Lake Valley combined already employ five firefighter/paramedics, but each agency has hired six additional paramedics, to be funded by Cal Tahoe. Some are not trained to fight fire, but within a year all will be expected to be.
Cal Tahoe paramedics will be required by law to be “right on the patient,” even if a patient is hanging off a cliff or trapped in a car, Chandler said.
LTA did not face the same requirement, but Jeff Bates, paramedic and general manager of LTA, said he and his employees often brought medical care off-road and over cliffs.
Lake Valley Fire Chief Brian Schafer believes Cal Tahoe will improve emergency services 50 percent by having a third ambulance posted in Meyers. LTA’s contract required a minimum of two ambulances to be available.
Schafer also said absorbing the ambulance service will not mean less fire protection.
“It’s important to understand that 70 percent of all our calls are medical aid calls,” he said. “The city and Lake Valley have never failed to respond to a medical aid or fire call. That’s not going to change just because we drive the (ambulance).”
If a time comes when all Cal Tahoe resources are tapped, the Tahoe-Douglas Fire Protection District will be the first agency to provide mutual aid, Schafer said. Tahoe-Douglas, North Tahoe and the two other emergency agencies at the lake already have fire-based ambulance service.
Within Cal Tahoe, North Tahoe Fire is expected to be a guiding force with its 30 years of experience in ambulance service, Schafer said. The new agency hopes to augment its budget by transporting non-critical patients to and from hospitals, something North Tahoe already does at Barton Memorial Hospital.
“With interfacility transfers, our hope is that some of that revenue will help support our system,” Schafer said. “North Tahoe will also provide administration and oversee quality assurance.”
To ensure a smooth transition for Cal Tahoe at 12:01 a.m. Saturday, the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors called a special meeting Thursday morning to take care of any last-minute paperwork.
“We don’t anticipate any hiccups when the tone goes off at LTA and goes on at Cal Tahoe,” said Trish Beck, attorney for the county. “At this point we believe everything is in the appropriate place.”
With LTA closing its doors, 14 full-time employees are out of a job. Four of them have been hired by Cal Tahoe, including Chip Johnston.
“It’s hard to see LTA go out this way,” said Johnston, 42. “LTA gave me a chance as a brand new paramedic. But emergency medical services are going toward a fire-based system everywhere. LTA held out as long as it could.”
Jennifer Crawford, 23, has worked at LTA for a year. She landed a job at Barton Memorial Hospital as an emergency room technician and lab worker, but some of her coworkers weren’t so lucky.
“I’m six months pregnant so I wasn’t able to take the tests” for Cal Tahoe, she said. “I’m not angry, I wish them nothing but the best. I am frustrated how there wasn’t work guaranteed for those who have been serving this community. Some of our hardest-working, best employees weren’t hired and have left for other departments or moved out of the area.”
– Robert Stern and Michael S. Green contributed to this report.
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