The union representing Philadelphia firefighters and paramedics is worried a change in staffing could cause problems.
The union objects to a city plan for replacing one of the two paramedics on ambulance runs with an emergency medical technician. The combination of one paramedic and one EMT isn't as effective, said paramedic Dan Oakes, because EMTs are not trained to do everything a paramedic can do.
"You give oxygen, you can perform CPR -- but you can't give medications, you can't intubate a patient, you can't do some of the more invasive techniques, decompressing a chest for lung-type injuries," he said.
However, Michael Resnick, the city’s Director of Public Safety, claims one paramedic and one EMT is the standard for the state and the recommendation from a study commissioned by the city.
“Other jurisdictions practice this way,” Resnick said. “This would be the best practice for the city of Philadelphia.”
Fire Department Deputy Commissioner David Gallagher said such pairings of paramedic and EMT happen routinely now. By making it permanent, he said, it will expand the department's capacity by adding up to eight ambulances at peak times.
"Everything we are focusing on is an increase -- increase in ambulances, increase in paramedic distribution, increase in total staffed units per day, seven days a week," Gallagher said.
The change will be gradual and monitored to make sure it's progressing smoothly, he added.
However, Joe Schulle, the president of the firefighters union, argues the only reason paramedics and EMTs are paired is because there aren’t enough paramedics. Schulle tells NBC10 that the city should follow standards according to the National Fire Protection Association, which recommends two paramedics on a call. According to Schulle, this plan makes more sense because paramedics are trained to handle more serious medical calls.
“A patient needs to be intubated,” Schulle said. “They need a tube placed in their throat to help their breathing. They need IV’s put in.”
Gallagher, however, believes that the way the new EMTs are being phased in will allow the city to evaluate quickly whether more paramedics are needed and how many.
“We are sending two paramedics on a basic call that maybe neither of them are needed on,” Gallagher said. “We’re trying to distribute all of our resources equally seven days a week.”
Schulle doesn’t buy the explanation however.
“This is a cost-cutting measure at the expense of public safety,” Schulle said.