By CBSLA Staff

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) —Due to the lack of ambulances and resources brought on by the pandemic, the Los Angeles County Fire Department has adjusted its policy allowing certain patients to be transported on fire apparatuses.

“An already stressed system in the emergency departments are now working on a limited staff with more residents coming into the hospitals,” said Assitant Chief Brian Bennet at the Jan. 4 Carson City Council meeting. “We’re doing everything we can to not interrupt service.”

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SANTA CLARITA, CA – APRIL 28: A fire truck covered in fire retardant moves into position during the North Fire on Iron Village Drive as flames approached homes on Wednesday, April 28, 2021. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Because of the ambulance shortages, LACOFD Chief Daryl Osby has approved an emergency transport policy allowing fire apparatuses to transport patients, however, very strict criteria must be met before a patient can be transported in County fire vehicles. According to the LACOFD public affairs Chief Chad Sourbeer, the patient must be conscious and alert, able to walk and stand, and finally, must be able to sit in a seat on the rig. Also, fire trucks and engines can only transport patients if ambulance response times are exceptionally high at the time.

During the meeting, Bennet called the move “unheard of” and “unprecedented.”

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“They’re encouraging the residents to either find a private vehicle or alternative methods to get to the hospital so that we can save those ambulances for the critical patients in your community,” he said.

The move comes as the department implements a new tiered dispatch system for ambulances. According to Bennet, the ambulance companies that the county contracts have also been decimated by the virus with 50% of its employees unable to work after testing positive for COVID-19.

“There’s less ambulances out there and our response times for the ambulance companies have increased greatly,” said Assistant Fire Chief Brian Bennet during the Carson City Council Meeting on Jan. 4.

County Fire, just like other industries, is facing a staffing shortage on top of the lack of ambulances. As of Jan. 4, 450 firefighters are unable to work after testing positive for COVID-19, Bennet said. Despite the hundreds of firefighters that are out sick, Bennet said that engines, as well as stations, remain fully staffed and services have not been reduced. However, with firefighters working extra hours, there are concerns that the department has reached its limits.

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“The firefighters that are working now in the city of Carson and around the county are being asked to work extra hours, extra days,” Bennet said. “But our folks, just as our partners in the Sheriff’s Department, they are being stressed and are to their limit… Unfortunately, the next couple of weeks are going to be really trying for the fire department, emergency rooms and for your ambulance companies.”