An early morning Sunday crash involving a Long Beach ambulance driver falling asleep at the wheel and crashing into a power pole has prompted two Long Beach employee unions to act.
"It takes, unfortunately, a tragedy or a potential tragedy for a light to be shined on this and to get people to act," said Rex Pritchard, president of Long Beach Firefighters Association Local 372.
Just before 5:20 a.m., as the ambulance was responding to a call, it slammed into a power pole, a crosswalk sign and a wall. The driver and the other fire department employee in the ambulance suffered minor injuries.
"Right now, we still have employees who are still dealing with sleep deprivation and knowing that this has been going on for over a year and didn't come up with concrete solutions to solve it," said Pritchard.
The Long Beach Firefighters Association Local 372 president said he and leaders of the International Association of Machinists Local 1930 have been urging the department to address what they say are extreme call volume and fatigue issues for over a year but haven't seen any changes.
"What is very common in this department is to work 72-hour shifts," said Pritchard. "You're lucky if you get, in that 72 hours, four to six hours of rest.
A department representative said there is a national paramedic shortage. While it's difficult to staff these entry-level positions with a high turnover, the representative admitted things need to change.
Long Beach Fire Chief Dennis Buchannan wrote in a letter to the two unions that he is working to hire new employees and expedite the process.
Pritchard listened to the claims from the department with skepticism. He said he's worried about the staff and Long Beach residents, who he says aren't getting the level of services they deserve.
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