Dallas is more than doubling the number of advanced life support emergency medical service vehicles to help tackle a dramatic rise in the number of medical calls.
The city plans to increase the number of vehicles on the street by putting a paramedic on 54 of Dallas' fire engines. The fire engines will also carry advanced life-saving equipment that is normally carried only in ambulances.
"We think it's going to increase the survivability and patient care, patient treatment on the citizens and visitor of Dallas," Dallas Fire-Rescue Chief Eddie Burns said.
The program, which was presented Monday to the City Council Public Safety Committee, will reduce pressure on existing paramedic ambulance crews -- and do it with existing manpower and resources.
"We shuffled some money, and we actually did some inventory control," said.
Currently, Dallas has 34 advanced life-support ambulances on duty around the clock and 11 more that go in service during peak hours.
Ambulances are staffed with two paramedic firefighters.
In the past 15 years, the number of runs by Dallas Fire-Rescue ambulances has doubled to 149,610 in the last fiscal year.
"You can make anywhere from 15 to 20 calls in a day -- sometimes more, depending on the day," said Reggie Bell, a paramedic firefighter. "You just got to take it as it comes and come to work well rested and ready to respond."
Bell works on Rescue Ambulance 18, which is based at a fire station on Griffin Street near the downtown Dallas freeways.
"EMS is our primary role now," Burns said.
Dallas fire engines currently respond to medical calls, but the new program will expand and formalize the procedures and provide better equipment and staffing.
Burns told the Public Safety Committee that experienced paramedics who have rotated out of ambulance duty are being reassigned to fire engine trucks.
New dispatch procedures would send engines to calls that don't require immediate patient transport.
City Council members said they believe that might save Dallas money that is wasted on unnecessary ambulance runs.
"I like the direction here," Councilman Dave Neumann said. "I would encourage you to go as far as you can in order to do a triaging effect. I don't want us to get the city in trouble. I don't want to undercut our ability to provide care, comfort for citizens that need our help. But I encourage to be more aggressive about it."
Councilman Jerry Allen also spoke in favor of the plan.
"This is a good step headed in the right direction," he said.
"Pretty much it would make it so you could do everything on the fire engine that you can do on the ambulance beside transport," Bell said. "It would help us tremendously."