Samantha Weigel/Daily Journal
Redwood City firefighter paramedics Chris Kehr and Jeff Kirkish transfer medical gear to their new interim
rescue squad truck.
There’s a new duo on call that’s not only responding to public emergencies, it’s helping Redwood City’s budget by giving a pricey asset a rest.
The Redwood City Fire Department implemented a new Rescue Squad Program last month to help reduce some of the unnecessary wear and tear on Station 9’s ladder truck.
Instead of a standard three-person fire engine team, Station 9’s rescue squad is comprised of a captain and paramedic equipped in a smaller vehicle and primarily responds to medical calls, said Deputy Fire Chief Stan Maupin.
Fire Capt. Chris Kehr has been a paramedic for 25 years, a firefighter for 15 years and is one of the department’s new rescue squad members.
“The fire department has progressed, we respond not just to fires anymore,” Kehr said. “Any time a person has a problem in their life, a wrinkle they can’t figure out, they call us.”
Redwood City has five fire stations and Station 9, one of the busiest in the county, was summoned to 2,700 calls last year, the majority of which were medical, Maupin said.
Firefighters pride themselves as civil servants who provide excellent customer service; all are trained EMTs and at least a third are paramedics.
“[Firefighters] love the excitement,” Maupin said. “But you almost can’t find someone in this job that doesn’t say ‘what can we do more to help citizens?’”
There are only eight ladder trucks in the entire county, Maupin said. Station 9 is the department’s headquarters and houses Redwood City’s ladder truck, one of its five engines, the chief’s vehicle and the new rescue squad truck.
To avoid layoffs during the recession and because the city needs its only ladder truck available 24/7, the department decided to give engine 9 a break instead, Maupin said.
Consequentially, the ladder truck ended up being used for calls that didn’t always require its unique capabilities, Maupin said.
“We did some analysis of the types of calls in district 9 and a majority of them we determined could be initially handled with two people instead of three,” Maupin said.
All fire vehicles are equipped to handle medical calls, but each carries a specific type of equipment and serves a distinct purpose during a fire. Engines respond with 500 gallons of water, hoses and pumps; massive ladder trucks bring the 100-foot ladder and heavy machinery like ventilation equipment and the Jaws of Life; while the new rescue squad is stocked primarily with medical equipment.
“The ladder truck is a big piece of equipment, it costs a lot of money and we were putting a lot of additional wear and tear on it,” Maupin said. “We had a big interest in getting the truck off these types of calls and making it more available for the type of calls it’s really meant to handle.”
Ladder trucks costs upwards of $1 million and, although the rescue squad is currently in an interim vehicle, its new truck on a Dodge chassis with a mini engine truck-style back was around $100,000, Maupin said.
Running a ladder truck requires four firefighters to operate, an engine needs three and the squad only uses two. Remarkably, the station’s restructuring didn’t require any new hires and it’s back to housing six firefighters each shift, Maupin said.
When the paramedic role was developed in the 1960s, it brought critical medical care into the field, Kehr said.
“It’s definitely raised the standard of care,” Kehr said. “We do the same thing as what an emergency room usually does in the first 15 minutes when a [patient] arrives.”
The rescue squad vehicle eases navigating Redwood City’s busy downtown streets and the crew can always call on the resources of a truck or engine when needed, Kehr said.
Redwood City hopes to receive its new rescue squad mobile this week and to get engine 9 up and running once the budget stabilizes, Maupin said. For now, the department has received positive feedback from rescue squad crews and the flexibility of its role is a huge asset, Maupin said.
For Kehr and his partner, firefighter Jeff Kirkish, as long as they stay busy on the job, they don’t mind being off an engine.
“Any time you’re off a piece of equipment there’s things you miss about it,” Kehr said. “But someday, when I’m back on a fire engine, there’ll be things I miss about the squad.”
(650) 344-5200 ext. 106