Santa Monica firefighters responded to a structure fire on the Third Street Promenade last year. (Photo by Daniel Archuleta)

The implementation of an ambulance pilot program, which drew some strife between the fire union and the chief, has been delayed until the fall, according to a recent report from the Santa Monica Fire Department.

In January, City Council accepted then-Chief Scott Ferguson’s request to add six new paramedics — rather than the 12 requested by the fire union and some members of the public — to man three two-person platoons. Ferguson has since left the department for Murrieta.

The intent was for the pilot program to start in July, but staffing shortages have delayed the program to later this year, Interim Fire Chief Dennis J. Downs said in the report to council.

“Just last month, the Fire Department graduated six new firefighters from the training academy that filled six existing vacancies in the Suppression and Rescue Division,” the report said. “Additionally, the Department has six firefighters currently attending paramedic school for the required nine months of intensive training that has limited the ability to staff the new (rescue ambulance).”

Six new recruits will start at the academy in August and finish in late October. Once they’ve graduated, Downs said, there will be enough trained personnel to staff rescue ambulances. The department is also in the process of getting the necessary equipment for deployment.

“Performance measures that include unit availability, unit response times, and number of concurrent calls will be used to regularly evaluate the effectiveness of the (rescue ambulance) pilot program,” the report said. “By establishing a benchmark for response with a single (basic life support) unit as it is currently configured, the pilot will provide experience and data to make better informed management decisions on how best to deploy additional staffing resources.”

The new ambulance will be available seven days a week, 24 hours a day, and will be sent in addition to the four-person engine and a two person private ambulances that currently show up on scene. On-site assessments will be made and the unnecessary units will be released back into service.

In 2014, the department responded to 14,207 calls for service, almost 80 percent of which were related to emergency medical services, fire officials said. There was a 7.6 percent jump emergency response from the year prior and call volume was up 5.8 percent.

“The trend is illustrative of a gradual increase over the past decade, while staffing levels have remained relatively the same,” the report said.

On top of fire and medical response, the department is in charge of fire inspections, pre-fire plans, and training its staff members and a review found a need for more boots on the ground.

“As part of the review, a number of staffing and response options were considered using available call data, local demographics, contemporary trends, industry standards and other models used by comparable departments,” the report said. “The result of the assessment concluded that additional sworn and civilian personnel were needed.”

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