Fire panelist quits, parts with a shot
He says medical service revamping was rushed through
By Rachel Gordon, Chronicle Staff Writer - Reprinted from the S.F. Chronicle - May 26, 2005
A San Francisco fire commissioner abruptly resigned his post Wednesday, accusing Mayor Gavin Newsom and Fire Department brass of rushing through a plan to reconfigure the way the city responds to calls for emergency medical service.

Dr. Douglas Goldman held a press conference outside the gates of the emergency room at San Francisco General Hospital to announce he was quitting the Fire Commission.

He was joined by a former colleague on the Fire Commission, Rosemarie Fernandez-Pifer, who was informed last week by a Newsom aide that she was not going to be reappointed to a new term. Newsom swore in her replacement, George Lau, the treasurer of Local 21, a city employees union, during a ceremony in the mayor’s office Wednesday.

Goldman, who at one time practiced emergency medicine and now runs a software company, and Fernandez-Pifer, an attorney and law professor, were in the minority of a 3-2 vote in March that gave the department the go-ahead to implement a new paramedic plan. They charged Wednesday that they had been cut off from asking questions after raising concerns during the Fire Commission’s deliberations on the plan.

Paramedics, who had worked for the Department of Public Health, were brought under the jurisdiction of the Fire Department seven years ago, put on 24-hour shifts the same as firefighters and housed in fire stations. But the merger has been rocky, revealing a culture clash between firefighters and paramedics.

Under the new plan, a new, lower-paid group of paramedics and emergency medical technicians will be hired and located outside the fire stations and deployed in ambulances in neighborhoods throughout the city. An existing crew of employees who are cross-trained to be firefighters and paramedics will continue to be housed in the stations and work with firefighters on 24-hour shifts and provide first-response medical care until the ambulance crews arrive on the scene.

Backers of the new system say it will save money and provide quicker response times to medical emergencies. Goldman and Fernandez-Pifer say they aren’t convinced that the change won’t end up costing more and say they believe additional study is warranted. They say the plan, which is expected to be launched in the new fiscal year, may not be based on sound medical policy.

For instance, Goldman said, it is unclear how paramedics in the field will restock their ambulances and where they will rest during their shifts. Goldman, the former interim chief of emergency medical services for the city in the mid-1990s, said more input was needed from outside experts in the medical profession.

“I don’t think this is in the best interests of the citizens of the community,” said Goldman, who retained a public relations firm to help get out his message. “Sound, important questions were ignored and not fully investigated.”

Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White, disagreed, saying in an interview that the plan had been thoroughly mapped out over the last 10 months. “We feel it has been vetted by a number of experts, and we feel very confident that we’re moving in the right direction,” she said.

Newsom said in an interview he was confident the plan had been thoroughly thought through, saying it “had a good vetting,” and that he welcomed debate among members of city commissions.

Fernandez-Pifer said she believed her reluctance last month to go along with the commission majority — which mirrored Newsom’s desire on the matter — had led to her not being reappointed.

Newsom said he had decided to oust Fernandez-Pifer from the commission “to start getting new people in. It’s not an indictment of anybody. I think she’s done a great job on the commission.” Newsom appointed her to the commission in April 2004 to replace a commissioner who left mid-term.

© 2005 San Francisco Chronicle


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