Alta Healthcare breathes life into Dinuba EMT positions

Alta Healthcare District awards large annual grant to Dinuba Fire Department to address emergency medical services staffing needs

Emergency medical staff rescuing a patient lying on a gurney. (michaeljung on Adobe Stock)
Serena Bettis
Published June 4, 2024  • 
10:30 am

DINUBA – The Alta Healthcare District is dedicating nearly half a million dollars annually to emergency medical services in Dinuba, providing a critical source of funding for staffing and ambulance costs for the Dinuba Fire Department.

Already approved by the Alta Healthcare District Board of Directors at its May 16 meeting, the Dinuba City Council unanimously approved a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the district at its meeting on May 28 and discussed the variety of benefits this grant will provide to the city. It will award the fire department with $490,000 annually to go toward staffing and ambulance costs.

“This is amazing. It seems like they’re really wanting to help support our community and they’ve taken a lot of steps to provide a lot of support for your department, but that just helps all of us,” Councilmember Benjamin Prado said to Dinuba Fire Chief Greg Chastain.

Alta Healthcare District is always looking to support community programs that create more or improved access to health care with its grant program, which is funded by the tax revenue the district brings in, said attorney Alex Peltzer, who serves as general counsel for the district. 

The grant process began more than a year ago under former Fire Chief Jordan Webster, Chastain said. At that time, the department wanted to fund paramedic positions; however, due to challenges filling open paramedic positions, Chastain said the department determined it would be more effective to create single-role Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) positions, something the city does not have currently. 

“The board liked that idea, thought it aligned with the mission for the district of providing better access — especially to emergency health, which we don’t have a whole lot of emergency health in the area of Alta Healthcare District — but the ambulances are all there, and if we can increase their ability to provide emergency health through their ambulances, that meets the objective for the district,” Peltzer said.

Dinuba’s fire department needs both EMTs and paramedics and had a single-role EMT position years ago, but they are not as versatile, Chastain said. The department can run an ambulance with two paramedics, but it cannot run an ambulance with two EMTs, which is why the city has stayed away from staffing that kind of position. 

Chastain said the fire department currently has six vacancies and feels that the addition of a single-role EMT on each shift will have a “significant impact” on department staffing. According to a city staff report provided at the council meeting, these positions — which will not replace any current positions — will allow the department to place a third ambulance into service on low-staff days and a fourth ambulance into service on fully-staffed days.

“Having more ambulances available reduces the likelihood of requiring an outside agency to respond when the department experiences concurrent calls for service,” the staff report said.

According to the MOU, $300,000 in grant funding will go toward the salaries and benefits for three new single-role EMT positions, not to exceed $100,000 per employee per year. The contract term is continuous on a rolling three-year basis; if either the city or district wish to end the agreement, the district will continue to provide funding for an additional three years. 

The remaining $190,000 per year will be allocated to helping the department purchase a new ambulance every 18 months; the city must pay any associated costs that exceed $285,000. This funding will help the city replace older, high-mileage ambulances with new, more reliable units.

As part of the grant agreement between the city and the district, the city has created a new fund dedicated to the money distributed by Alta Healthcare District so that the district can easily track the funding. The district also required the city to establish an oversight committee that will meet annually to ensure the funding is being used properly. 

The oversight committee will consist of two Dinuba council members, two district board members, the city’s finance director and the district’s chief fiscal officer; the Dinuba City Council held off on nominating members to serve on the committee because the first committee meeting will not be until June 2025.

Training future paramedics 

Single-role EMTs have fewer duties, and therefore fewer training requirements, than paramedics or firefighter-EMTs, which makes the positions easier to fill, Chastain said. For example, while a paramedic is allowed to administer advanced cardiac life support drugs and start intravenous (IV) lines, an EMT may only conduct basic life support measures such as taking vital signs, controlling bleeding and helping administer EpiPens. 

“The difference in their education requirement is pretty drastic, as well as their field internship requirements,” Chastain said. 

To become an EMT, a person must complete a basic training program and pass an exam in order to qualify for an EMT certification with the state of California. College of the Sequoias offers a single-semester program consisting of two classes that prepares a student for the required exam. 

COS also offers a year-long paramedic program. To qualify for the program, individuals must have passed an EMT program, have a current EMT certification and a current American Heart Association Basic Life Support CPR certification and pass an entrance exam. Additionally, COS recommends at least six months of full-time work experience as an EMT. 

According to the COS website, the estimated cost of the EMT program including pre- and post-program costs is approximately $900. The COS paramedic program costs just over $4,000 for California residents and more than $11,500 for out-of-state students.

With paramedics in short supply, this agreement with Alta Healthcare District will provide “an immediate need” and could help the city attract more individuals to eventually become paramedics or firefighters, Chastain said. 

“It’s going to be sort of a training position — it can be, it doesn’t have to be — but people get an EMT job, and then they decide they want to go to the fire academy, and now they’re a firefighter-EMT, or they want to go to paramedic school … so it can be a training ground position,” Chastain said. “I think it’s gonna be a very positive thing for the department.”

Serena Bettis
General Assignment Reporter