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Clearing up confusion about firefighters and paramedics

By Chris Hamm

Happy New Year from your newest elected council member. When I meet people, the first thing they ask is, “What do you do for a living?” Usually, after telling them I am a firefighter stationed in Talega, they ask, “When I call for the paramedics, why does both a fire truck and an ambulance come to my house?” I thought I would take this opportunity to explain emergency services in San Clemente.

The city of San Clemente operates differently from the cities around us because of a forward-thinking fire chief in the 1980s who set forth cutting-edge policies in fire protection and EMS. Our system is very efficient and cost-effective for residents.

The city contracts with the Orange County Fire Authority for emergency services. We have three fire stations located in town. The first is Station 50 on the north end of town, which houses a fire engine (no ladder on top) and the city’s ambulance. Station 59 in Talega houses a fire truck with a big ladder, “Jaws of Life” and other heavy equipment. Station 60 located downtown is our busiest station and houses a fire engine.

All of our fire stations have firefighters who are cross-trained as paramedics and ride on the fire engines and trucks. The ambulances have two EMTs and transport sick and injured people to the hospital. Station 50 has only one paramedic on duty, to reduce costs, while the other stations have two paramedics.

Because the majority of our calls are medical related calls, I will explain the two most common scenarios in San Clemente: If you live in the north end of town, and you call 911, Engine 50 and the ambulance will respond to your house, and if transport is necessary, Truck 59 will respond for additional personnel. Once the patient is placed into the ambulance, one paramedic from Truck 59 will transport you to the hospital. Truck 59 will go back in service, one person short, available to respond to other emergencies. Engine 50 will also go back into service, available to respond. Once the patient is dropped off at the hospital, the ambulance will meet up with Truck 59 to return the paramedic.

If you live in the east or south and you call 911, either Truck 59 or Engine 60 will respond with the ambulance. If transport is necessary, one paramedic will get in the ambulance and assist you to the hospital, while the rest of the crew from Engine 60 or Truck 59 go back in service to respond to other emergencies. Just like in the above scenario, after the patient is dropped off at the hospital they return the paramedic to their respective crew.

If you haven’t heard, an Emergency Transportation Program is available to San Clemente residents looking for low cost emergency services. This subscription-based program, which costs $40 per year, covers the subscriber and all his/her legal dependents in the household. This allows for emergency transportation to the local hospital as many times as emergency service is needed during the year. Without the subscription, residents incur the usual service charges of $417.75 for EMT/ambulance service and/or $827.50 for paramedic service. To sign up, call 949.361.8282 or download an application at

Remember, we live in the fire station for one third of our lives (at least). If you see any of the crews out training, grocery shopping, or fueling the equipment please say “hello” and ask a question or two. I hope this has helped to explain how the fire department works in San Clemente.


Chris Hamm is the newest member of the San Clemente City Council. He was elected to his first four-year term in November 2012.

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