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Study: Long Beach needs to add emergency room, paramedics, but cut firefighters

A Long Beach emergency services report concluded the city needs a 24-hour emergency room and additional ambulances and paramedics to serve the community that has been without a hospital since superstorm Sandy closed the Long Beach Medical Center.

The $55,000 study commissioned by the City of Long Beach also recommended reducing the number of paid, full-time firefighter positions to save $2 million.

Analysts from the Washington, D.C.-based ICMA Center for Public Safety Management said the city should add a second ambulance to answer peak calls during 12-hour shifts, in addition to an existing ambulance responding round-the-clock.

Ambulance service since Sandy has been diverted to hospitals in Oceanside and East Meadow.

South Nassau Communities Hospital opened an urgent care facility next to the shuttered hospital on East Bay Boulevard, but it cannot take ambulances or trauma patients.

The report was commissioned last year, before Long Beach officials announced plans to lay off five paid firefighters funded by a two-year $900,000 federal grant that expired at the end of the year. The positions have been extended to Feb. 15.

The report concluded that paid city firefighters lacked paramedic credentials and that the volunteer force of about 150 firefighters usually arrived at an emergency as quickly as paid firefighters did.

The report's review of fire department emergency calls showed that 75 percent of the calls were for emergency services and 23 percent were reports of fires. About 47 percent of the calls for fires were deemed false alarms.

The Long Beach Fire Department "has organizational issues and inefficiencies that require improvement," the report states.

The report recommended reducing full-time employees from 30 to 24 -- with a force made up of 12 firefighters and the 12 civilian paramedics, positions that would cost less. The city would maintain the same three-person staff on fire engines.

The savings from those changes "would average $1.75 million to $2 million by 2016, with little change in the firefighting mission, but with improved service in EMS," the report states.

Four of the 30 career firefighters are also certified paramedics, according to the report.

Long Beach firefighters, in a posting on the union website, disputed the report and said all paid firefighters are either emergency medical technicians or paramedics.

EMTs can perform the same duties as paramedics, but they must contact medical personnel to administer medications, union officials said.

"This decision is based on risk analysis and the city's willingness to accept more public safety risk," the union posted on its website.

Long Beach City Manager Jack Schnirman said the city is not cutting any positions because of the report.

"There is no increased risk to public safety, and these misleading scare tactics have no place in a fact-based discussion," he said.

The entire report and analysis is listed on the city's website, longbeachny.gov. The City Council is taking public comments about the report at Tuesday night's meeting or by email to comment@longbeachny.gov.

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