It’s Our Time to Respond to Our First Responders – LA County Firefighter-Paramedic Celebrates 50 Years of Service

The Los Angeles County Firefighter department Paramedic program is the first in the world.

Left to Right: FRONT ROW - LA County Fire Chief Daryl Obsy (fourth in row) and LA County Supervisor Janice Hahn (sixth in row) . 2nd ROW: Assistant Fire Chief Eleni Pappas. Also in the photos are Frontline firefighters/Paramedics and 911 dispatchers, LA County Fire Medical Director and ER doctor. Photo by L. Johnson

Left to Right: FRONT ROW – LA County Fire Chief Daryl Osby (fourth in front row) and LA County Supervisor Janice Hahn (sixth in front row) . 1st in 2nd ROW: Assistant Fire Chief Eleni Pappas. Also in the photos are Frontline firefighters/Paramedics and 911 dispatchers, LA County Fire Medical Director and ER doctor. Photo by L. Johnson

As the Los Angeles County Fire Department celebrates its 50th anniversary of paramedic services, a series of press briefings were held throughout the county. The purpose of these briefings was to highlight the challenges facing the department in continuing to provide needed services to the communities under its jurisdiction. These communities include the cities of Paramount, South Gate, Huntington Park, Walnut Park, Lynwood, Bellflower, Bell Gardens, Maywood, as well as the unincorporated parts of Los Angeles County.  Over the past seven years the Los Angeles County Fire Department has seen a surge in 911 medical service calls along with the challenges in responding to larger and more destructive fires. The situation has been exacerbated with the use of outdated equipment and limited staffing.

To discuss these and other issues, CaribPress recently caught up with Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl L. Osby at Fire Station No. 31 in the City of Paramount. Osby, who is the first African-American to head the department, granted CaribPress an one-on-one interview to give our readers a more in depth understanding of what the department is facing and to inform our community about this growing dire situation.

CaribPress: We are a specific Caribbean-American community newspaper and I know your [fire stations] are talking about budgetary issues right now and you want to create this awareness. What could you tell our readers in reaching out to them?

Chief Osby: What I want to tell your readers is, first of all thank you for covering this story. We just really want to educate them [our readers] about the Los Angeles County Firefighter Department and our Firefighter Paramedic program and we are just celebrating our 50 years anniversary Paramedic program, which actually began right here.

CaribPress: Here, at this station?

Chief Osby: The Los Angeles County Firefighter department Paramedic program is the first in the world. Really, the last several years our call volume has gone up by fifty percent, where our staffing is gone up five percent and we were under staffed before then. Our paramedic services [as it] relates to new equipment [has only] gone up by three percent. [As a result of the increased call volume] we have gotten extremely busy. Our staffing hasn’t kept up with the busyness. In addition to that, we’re really challenged with our budget as it relates to replacing equipment. Today speaking for fire trucks, ladders, [and] trucks. We replace them every 20 years, but over 25% of them are beyond 20 years; our Paramedic units we try to replace them every 10 years. Almost 20% [of the paramedic units are] over 10 years old. We can’t keep up with the replacements [if] we don’t have the revenue to do that… So, it’s very important that we really educate the community on those needs. We have a website I was going to tell you about it called weareLAcountyfire.org, we want [every Los Angeles County] citizen to go to that website and tell us what they think about the fire department, tell us what they think is important. We [are] going to take that data, I am going to do a report to take to the [Los Angeles County] Board of Supervisors, and they will help us move forward [and determine] how we better fund the department.

CaribPress: Is this funding in the form of a tax, what are we looking at?

Chief Osby: It could be an increase to a tax, it could be a bond, but we need to get more information before we make that determination.

CaribPress: For a young person who wants to be a firefighter what would you advise them the steps to take for someone [before] leaving high school?

Chief Osby: I would advise them, for the young men or women, we having a youth program, it is called an “Explorer Program.” [To inquire about the program] you can visit any fire station. The program is for ages 15 to 21, or you can go to the Los Angeles Firefighter’s website (losangelesCountyfirefighterdepartment.org) and find a local “Explorer Program” closer to you. I advise kids to do that program and we mentor kids, we put them through a mock academy like our fire fighters go through and once they become certified, they can do ride alongs on our fire engines and paramedic units to get [an] understanding and [to] experience of what firefighters do and hopefully it [will] lead them to a potential career in the fire service — so that’s what I would advice them to do. Do well in school, stay out of trouble, volunteer for the “Explorer Program” to see if this [is] something they would like. I would let you know I am the first African-American Fire Chief, so we are definitely looking for men and women of color to join this organization.

CaribPress: You are celebrating fifty years [of] 911 Services, what are the achievements you can talk about this anniversary? You talk about the funding and challenges you face, but looking at the glass half full, what can you comment about this 50th anniversary?

Reporter Lyndon Johnson interviewing the LA County Fire Chief Daryl Obsy

CaribPress Reporter Lyndon Johnson interviewing the LA County Fire Chief Daryl Osby

Chief Osby: Well, it’s hard to think about what life was [like] before 911, and what life was before Firefighter-Paramedic because in our lifetime it has always existed but what it means to me and the people who work for my department, it’s an amazing profession. Every day, we have dedicated men and women who put their lives on the line to protect, to serve others, so every day we have stories throughout [the County of] Los Angeles where we responded to save somebody’s life and having been in that profession, there is nothing more rewarding and that’s a real good feeling.

CaribPress: I know a lot of people admire the [Los Angeles County] Fire Department, thank you.

Chief Osby: Thank you.

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Supervisor Janice Hahn had this to say after asked by a CaribPress reporter about what we can celebrate about the 50th anniversary of the 911 Emergency Medical Service (EMS) paramedic system.

“We can celebrate that Los Angeles County became a model for this kind of paramedic service to not just California, but to the rest of the nation and the world. The entire world now looks at what LA County did 50 years ago, and has replicated that everywhere. So when I think about the number of lives been saved because of my dad’s [LA County Board of Supervisors Kenneth Hahn 1952-1992] vision 50 years ago, it’s incredible and it’s worth celebrating,” concluded Supervisor Hahn.

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