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Mission Fire chief preps for future growth

The Mission Fire Department underwent a major overhaul throughout the last two years, and the changes will continue into the foreseeable future, according to Fire Chief Adrian Garcia. 

In 2021, the department shifted to a fire-based EMS system. Since then, it acquired three ambulance units, increased staff certification levels, restructured leadership, hired a new chief and will soon expand to a sixth station. And with the Mission population growing, Garcia said the Mission Fire Department also needs to grow to serve the community effectively. 

After Mission FD transitioned to a fire-based EMS system, it maintained a partnership with the private ambulance company Med-Care EMS. The third-party company is still Mission’s primary ambulance provider, but when their three to four units are unavailable, Mission FD has its own emergency units to respond to calls. 

But eventually, the goal is to transition away from a contract with Med-Care and run the Mission Fire Department’s fire-based EMS program entirely on its own. To do that, the chief must determine the staff and equipment required to run the operation. And right now, he is in the data-collecting phase to figure out how to transition away from a contract with Med-Care. 

“It’s still a work in progress but every day we’re getting a little bit closer to having a better idea of how long it’s going to take for us to man the ambulances correctly,” Garcia said. “Our goal, hopefully in the next month or two, is to be able to have enough data for us to put [together] some sort of a transition plan for Med-Care. So we can say, ‘Hey, Med-Care, by this month and year, we’re going to take it over 100%.’ So that way it also allows Med-Care to prepare an exit strategy, per se.”

The most immediate need is certifications. 

Each ambulance needs certification from the Department of State Health Services to operate. The unit must have specific medications, equipment on the truck and approval from the medical director. Two of the three emergency vehicles have the certification. The third ambulance is still in production, but the chief said it should arrive in Mission later in the summer and hopefully be under operation before 2024. 

The second need is staffing. 

When city council approved the purchase of the third ambulance unit, Mission Fire did not have the certified personnel to run all three trucks. But the plan is to have staff ready with the highest paramedic certification by the time the state clears the unit for operation. Garcia said he wants all the ambulances to run at a Mobile Intensive Care level — the highest level of care classification for an ambulance. Paramedics in Mobile Intensive Care units can do higher levels of treatment, run EKGs and administer certain medications. 

Besides staffing and certifications, the chief needs to analyze data such as call volume, where in Mission the calls are coming from and where the city sees the most growth. Garcia explained that the data helps him determine how many ambulance units Mission FD needs, how much staff they need to operate the trucks and which stations to house them to improve response time. 

The state standard EMS response time is 8 minutes or less. So far, Mission’s EMS program has a response time average of 7 minutes and 16 seconds. And between 2018 and 2022, the EMS call volume has consistently increased from 3112 calls a year to 5579. The fire call volume has stayed more consistent in that same time frame. 

However, the chief wants to make sure the staffing needs of the Fire side of the department do not fall by the wayside. There needs to be a careful balance on both sides of the house, he said.

“Because it’s a fire-based EMS, it’s really easy to say, ‘I’m going to take some guys off the fire truck and put them on the EMS and now we’ve got the EMS taken care of,’” Garcia said. “But the problem with emergencies is they don’t happen at a structured time. So we have to be very careful of robbing Peter to give to Paul because you’re really not solving the problem, you’re just moving the problem from one end to the other. And in order to do this correctly, we have to properly staff, not just the EMS side, but also the Fire side. Because when an emergency does occur, I want to make sure that we have the appropriate number of personnel.”

And although understaffing is not an issue right now, as Mission Fire continues to grow its EMS program, it will become a more prevalent issue. But the city is already working on grant applications to help with staffing and costs.  

Garcia also has a longer timeline for a proposed staffing plan for the next seven to 10 years. By 2030, the chief recommends an additional 51 employees to outfit all six Mission Fire Stations and three ambulances. But depending on the data and the need, the plan might adjust throughout the years. 

“It’s going to be an ongoing evaluation and making those adjustments along the way,” the chief said. “But it’s a good problem to have because that means that the city is growing and going in the right direction, which will hopefully mean additional housing developments to the area, which increases population, which again drives our call volume even further.”

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