Visalia Fire Department rolls out its second Emergency Medical Squad

Squad 53 now serves the southern side of Visalia, handles emergency medical service calls for the Visalia Fire Department

VISALIA – A second Emergency Medical Squad hit the road this month to remedy the spike in calls for the fire department.

On Nov. 13, the Visalia Fire Department (VFD) rolled out its second Emergency Medical Squad, known as Squad 53. The medical squad will play a special role in helping the fire department administer medical aid during peak emergency call times. EMS coordinator Ryan Munger said the medical squad is composed entirely of paramedics who train alongside the firefighters, but instead of fighting flames, they will solely help callers who are in need of medical assistance. They will be operating out of fire station 53.

“It’s an efficient means of running medical aid calls, it really lightens the load, and our goal is running a ton of calls during the busiest times of the day,” Munger said. “What that does is it frees up our engines and trucks.”

EMS calls traditionally rise after 6 a.m. and fall after 11 p.m. with peak time between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. In order to respond to as many calls as possible, both units will operate from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and they will split the weekend with one crew operating on Saturday and the other on Sunday. Squad 53 serves the southern side of Visalia.

The squad vehicles are repurposed SUVs that are stocked with medical supplies and operated by two paramedics. Munger said that it is easier to reach a destination faster in the SUVs rather than a fire engine truck due to its smaller size. 

Munger said that it is essential to arrive and stabilize a patient immediately, so the additional medical squad will only allow the agency to help more residents in the community. This is essential to the function of VFD, as it is unique in the sense that it is an Advanced Life Support (ALS) agency, which requires each fire engine truck to have a paramedic on board and medical aid to be timely.

One of the main differences between the medical squads and an ambulance is that the medical squads will not transport patients to the hospital, as the fire department is a public agency rather than private, unlike most ambulance companies. Instead, they will stabilize a patient and then hand them off to the ambulance when they arrive. If a patient is “stat,” which means they need immediate medical assistance for a severe illness or accident, then the medical squad paramedic will usually travel with the ambulance during transport and continue administering aid, according to Munger.

Visalia Fire Chief Dan Griswold presented plans for a second medical squad to the Visalia City Council at its March 21 meeting this year, after the first medical squad, Squad 51, began serving the city in June of 2021. The reason behind the EMS unit was the growing call volume for medical aids, calls not involving fires but requiring medical assistance. Call volumes have steadily increased since to roughly 16,000 last year, according to Munger. Additionally, two-thirds of those calls are for EMS and rescue. 

Griswold planned for a second medical squad after seeing the impact Squad 51 made within its first few months. It responded to 18% of the EMS calls VFD responded to, saving firefighters from splitting their resources between fires and EMS on 900 calls in the first seven months of the program. In the first five months of the new unit, Squad 51 saved fire engines from traveling nearly 500 miles crisscrossing the city on calls not requiring an engine or ladder truck.

Stationing a second squad somewhere else in the city could theoretically cover twice as many calls and save twice as many miles on expensive fire apparatus. EMS calls are less random than fire calls and most medical aid calls are for heart attacks, strokes and vehicle accidents, things that typically occur during the day when people are more active, and lately, the unit has seen an increase in drug overdose situations.

Munger said that there are no plans yet to add an additional medical squad, but that VFD is going to grow and evolve with the community they serve, whether that means adding more squads or providing squads that operate 24/7.

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