Merced fire looks to combat ambulance shortage

Brianna Willis Image
Tuesday, December 5, 2023
Merced fire looks to combat ambulance shortage
In Merced County, the need for more ambulances and advanced life support continues as city officials say response times are high.

MERCED, Calif. (KFSN) -- In Merced County, the need for more ambulances and advanced life support continues as city officials say response times are high.

Merced Fire Chief Derek Parker says just recently, firefighters quickly responded to an emergency, but they weren't able to save the person because they didn't have proper resources.

Now, they want to be able to do what they believe will be best for local residents.

"It's truly not a secret that there's been a lot of struggles with ambulance response times in Merced and Merced County," said Chief Parker.

Providing critical care is top of mind for Chief Parker.

"The provider that is contracted within this county has been in material breach of contract for an access of two years," explained Chief Parker.

In the last 30 days, Riggs ambulance, which is contracted with Merced county through June 2025 responded to 1,834 calls.

"Currently, our average response time is 11 minutes and 26 seconds. That is over our response time requirement per our contractual agreement with Merced County, which is a response time of 10 minutes and 59 seconds," said Carly Strong, CEO of Riggs Ambulance.

Strong says they've tried to offer a $10,000 bonus for two years of employment and scholarships for EMTs to go to paramedic school, but it hasn't helped recruitment.

"We've tried to battle the staffing crisis. It's gone on. It's been very prolonged. It started for us actually kind of after COVID, and towards the end, however, we just haven't really recovered from it," said Strong.

As the Riggs agreement nears the end, Chief Parker says the Merced Fire Department recently purchased their first ambulance and wants to be a part of the solution.

"Really, we're at the point where we have to take some action, whether it's to support the system by taking care of some of the requests for service that are in the realm and a possibility for us, moving patients from hospital to hospital," said Chief Parker.

Additionally, they are also exploring being a backup support system when ambulances are just not available, not only in Merced but also in the county.

Monday night he presented a study to Merced city council members about the next steps working with an agency for Advanced Life Support Transport services.

"I have this duty to ensure the health and safety of this community and right now we are not meeting that mark," said Chief Parker.

Right now, Merced County is looking for new EMS providers as their contract gets closer to the end.

"We've done everything we can to service Merced County. We've been dedicated since 1948, we have no intention of leaving," said Strong. "And we're willing, as we always have been, to partner with our other local stakeholders to improve Merced County."

The next step for the Merced fire chief is to find an agency to work with to try to hire people for a trial run.

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