Idyllwild Fire Firefighter Nelson Escovar, Assistant Fire Chief Mark LaMont, Engineer Brett Leseberg and Austin Owen stand next to one of the Department’s four ambulances.
Photo by JP Crumrine

The closest-available unit is now officially the policy of Riverside County, as far as medical service. At an April 3 meeting, which included officials from the county’s Emergency Management and Fire departments, Idyllwild Fire Protection District and American Medical Response, the participants unanimously agreed to the merits of the policy. Its use will begin Tuesday, May 1, according to both Bruce Barton, EMD director, and IFPD Chief Patrick Reitz.

“AMR and IFD [Idyllwild Fire Department] will partner to ensure the success of the policy,” Barton said.

And the meeting where agreement was reached does not end the collaboration, he added. The agencies will continue to meet to review progress and strive for improvements.

When the county’s Emergency Control Center (dispatch) in Perris receives a call for an emergency medical response, the notice will immediately go to AMR, whose computers have a direct connection with its ambulances to identify their location. Barton described this process as computer-aided dispatch.

Between now and May 1, the critical step in the success of the new process requires installing automatic vehicle locaters — global positioning systems — in the Idyllwild ambulances. AMR is giving these devices to IFD. After their installation, the IFPD ambulances will appear on the AMR dispatch screen along with other AMR ambulances, such as the one stationed in Pine Cove.

If that unit is unavailable, the AMR system will automatically check the location of its backups and the IFPD ambulances. The closest-available unit will then be dispatched to the incident, both Barton and Reitz confirmed.

“If it is Idyllwild, so be it,” Barton said. EMD will broker the policy and Reitz confirmed EMD would enforce it.

The opportunity to employ this policy was available with technology and studies. “It is all about employment of standards throughout the county,” according to Barton.

Reitz is happy with the concept, which he has advocated for some time, and acknowledged that it would not strain IFPD, considering its primary mission is service to the district’s residents, and this new technology allows it to respond outside the district.

He expects the potential number of extra calls each month to be small and easily within the district’s capability. “It won’t be a significant increase. A lot of time we’re already running calls,” he said.

Currently, each shift of three firefighters (captain, engineer and firefighter) is augmented with at least one reserve. So, four first responders are available for two ambulances and added staff can be called back to the station when necessary to staff the two other ambulances, Reitz said, describing the plan.

When asked if IFPD planned to station an ambulance nearer Mountain Center, Reitz was adamant, “We don’t preposition our units. We’re either running calls or there for training.”

For example, he said, in January when the U.S. Forest Service began the Thomas Mountain burns, they requested an ambulance be nearby.

“This is for the benefit of the patients,” Reitz emphasized. “All of us are in the business of patient care. And, of course, there can be multiple ambulances, if there are multiple victims.”