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Got a first-aid kit? Keep it handy...

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by Mindy Aguon

Guam - It's definitely some news the entire island should be concerned about, especially if you get hurt, become sick or get injured from an accident - because it might take a while for the Guam Fire Department to respond. 

If you've got an emergency, you can bet it's going to take first responders a lot longer to get to you.  The situation is so bad that a medic assigned to Umatac the other day had to respond to an emergency all the way in Dededo.  With only four ambulances servicing the entire island today, the fire department is doing what it can to address the chronic and critical situation, but it may be too little, too late.

GFD receives nearly three dozen emergency calls every day.  But with only three or four ambulances to respond to these emergencies around the island, an agency tasked with helping people in need, is obviously in need of help itself.  On Sunday, the fire department only had three ambulances servicing the island. Today, the situation is only slightly better, with four medics at the Agat, Inarajan, Tamuning and Barrigada fire stations.  The four ambulances are overtaxed responding to dozens of emergency calls for the entire island.

Officials spent the day scrambling to get two more units up and running to put in Yigo and Umatac.

But the shortage of operable medics is nothing new for first responders.  In fact, the department has been plagued with a lack of ambulances for years as more than half of the fleet sits in parking lots waiting to be repaired.  GFD Spokesperson Joey San Nicolas says two weeks ago the agency awarded fleet services a $14,000 contract to fix two of four ambulances awaiting repairs at its lot, while another three are awaiting repairs at Triple J, and two are waiting to be fixed at the department's maintenance shop.

With the shortage of medics, San Nicolas says the department relies on a mutual aid agreement with the military that provides assistance should GFD not be able to respond in time.  But in one case where a medic from Umatac responded to an emergency in Dededo, the spokesperson admits the military can't always fill in when the department needs leaving residents to wait for sometimes more than an hour.

The department is working on purchasing new ambulances as $1.7 million in U.S. Department of the Interior and Compact-impact funding has been identified for the purchase of two ambulances and five new fire trucks.  GFD officials expect a request for proposal to come out later this week, which would mean a delivery date of the two medics by August. 

The department is also waiting on final approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the purchase of five new ambulances to be purchased with USDA grants.

Public safety oversight chair Senator Adolpho Palacios (D) meanwhile says the current medic shortage is unacceptable. The senator intends to introduce an amendment to the current law that would allow the department to utilize funding from the FLAME Fund to repair ambulances.  The department meanwhile has failed to collect very much money from ambulance and other fees that were specifically established to provide the department additional revenues.

The backup plan is a mutual aide agreement with the military and they also have all

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