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Two-tier emergency response system approved for Stanislaus County

Currently, a paramedic is dispatched to every emergency call, but would change under new system

MODESTO, Calif. — The Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors approved a "two-tier" emergency response system at its Tuesday meeting in Modesto.

Currently, a paramedic is sent to every 9-1-1 call. Under the new system, an emergency medical technician (EMT) could be dispatched instead of a paramedic, depending on the level or details of the call.

"So, based upon the information that comes into the dispatcher, they'll make a determination if we dispatch an EMT ambulance or we dispatch a paramedic ambulance to the scene," says Richard Murdock, Stanislaus County Fire Warden and Assistant Director for the Office of Emergency Services.

The move comes amid a growing shortage of paramedics.

Murdock points to a number of reasons, including the difficulty of educating new paramedics because of the COVID-19 pandemic, extended patient offload times at emergency rooms, the need for assisting on wildfires and a national paramedic shortage.

Murdock estimates for every one paramedic in Stanislaus County that there are five EMTs.

Stanislaus County also points to "historical data" which shows that about one out of every three 9-1-1 calls can be staffed by EMTs as opposed to paramedics.

"The most important thing is, regardless of the skill level, the responder can get on scene and provide some basic life support that can extend the patient's life," Murdock said.

The difference between an EMT and paramedic comes down to training. Murdock says an EMT undergoes 146 hours of training. A paramedic requires 1,096 hours of training.

Also, while an EMT can administer medication, they are limited in scope compared to a paramedic. For example, a paramedic can start an IV but not an EMT.

Paramedics also provide advanced life support in the event of a traumatic emergency.

Murdock says Sept. 27 is the target date to begin implementing the changes.

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