Corona del Mar Today: Original paramedics reminisce at NBFD luncheon

April 23, 2011|By Amy Senk
  • The first Newport Beach paramedic class in the early '70s.
The first Newport Beach paramedic class in the early '70s. (Courtesy NBFD )

In 1975, Newport Beach, along with most other cities in the nation, didn't have paramedics.

A study had shown that people were dying on the streets who would have survived on a battlefield in Vietnam. Firefighters had first aid training, but that could only go so far.

"Fill 'em full of air and ship 'em out — that was the saying," recalled retired Deputy Chief Tom Arnold, one of eight members of the city's first class of paramedics. "We were the first ones to get that advanced level of care we have today."

Arnold, along with retired Battalion Chief Don Jones, visited the Newport Center Fire Station last week to visit current paramedics over lunch.

In some ways, not much has changed from 1975 to today. Seconds still count when saving a life. They work as teams, closely, like families. They cherish thank yous and video updates from patients they've saved.


But the original paramedics were pioneers, among the first in Orange County. They attended college classes for four months, with eight hours a day of lectures followed by tests the next day. They learned how to use I.V.'s and perform cardiac intervention. While they were training, nurses at Hoag Hospital also were learning how to give medical instructions over the radio.

Back in 1975, paramedics worked in teams of two and were based out of the Newport Center station on Santa Barbara Drive. They covered the entire city.

"We went everywhere in town," Jones said. "We would respond to the Peninsula by taking the ferry. They knew if they heard sirens to clear the ferry lanes for us, and we'd go Code 3 across the harbor. That was a unique situation."

The first patient they treated was a 74-year-old stroke victim on Oct. 8, 1975. They have no idea how many patients they saved, nor did they remember specific cases.

"I do remember the dramatic difference, what we could do before was very restrictive," Arnold said. "It was very fulfilling, knowing you had the tools to save people's lives."

Instead of patching people up and waiting for a private ambulance, the new paramedics had emergency rooms on wheels.

"It became a team of people who worked together very well, in harmonious and quick fashion," Jones said. "Making order out of chaos was pretty much what you'd do."

More paramedics joined two years later, creating a second team and adding a third person to each shift. Today, there are three units stationed throughout Newport Beach, including in Corona del Mar, with eight paramedics on duty.

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