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L.A. City Council considers cutting ambulances

March 9, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
The Los Angeles City Council is considering another money-saving proposal: whether to make cuts in emergency ambulance service. Debate was punctuated Tuesday by a human drama in the council chambers.The Los Angeles City Council was considering more cuts in the fire department's ambulances Tuesday when a councilman's aide collapsed. The chamber was full of Los Angeles Fire Department brass and trained firefighters who rushed to help.

Paramedics were called to the chamber as the council continued to hear testimony about trimming the number of ambulances on call. The aide was taken to a hospital, where he was treated and released.

Luis Gonzalez told of losing his father to a heart attack on February 23. The only fire station in his neighborhood in El Sereno is Station 16. To save money, it was recommended that Station 16's ambulance be taken out of service for half of each day.

"Today it's two weeks my dad has passed," said Gonzalez. "It's not the easiest thing. So I'm begging you. And I know it's the hardest decision for you guys to make. Please. All we have is Station 16's."

The proposal would have 10 of the fire department's least used ambulances out of service for half of each day. A city council report concluded it would not dramatically reduce public safety. Yet there was an admission it could reduce response times. That comes on the heels of 15 fewer fire trucks in service, along with nine fewer ambulances.

Lupe Vasquez watched ambulances respond to her husband's heart attacks on two occasions.

"I don't know when I'll have to call them again, but I've always had faith that they would be there," said Vasquez.

The City Council decided that they wanted more questions answered and sent the idea back to committee.

"In some relatively small number of cases, someone will die as a result," said L.A. City Councilman Paul Koretz.

Voting for fire department cutbacks wasn't popular in the first place. But after the vivid testimony and the call to paramedics, it became even less popular. And the council realized their votes could mean life or death.