By Devin Fehely

HAYWARD (KPIX 5) – While firefighters are usually known for racing to the scene of a blaze, most of their time is spent on medical calls.

“We run into patients quite often that are not necessarily qualifying as an emergency patient, but nonetheless need health care,” said Hayward Fire Chief Garrett Contreras.

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The Hayward Fire Department is employing an innovative new strategy to help those patients, by building a clinic right next door to their newest fire station.

“We needed something for our adults. And we’ve been advocating for such a long time for a general-purpose clinic to serve our families,” said Karen Norell of Hayward. “Many, many families here don’t have health insurance, can’t afford health insurance.”

On Friday, hundreds turned out to tour the new clinic which will officially open next month.

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Health department officials said they hope the clinic will ease the burden on nearby emergency rooms.

“To have a clinic where people can walk in, not sit for five hours, get the services they need and actually utilize it is something that we needed to have,” said Hayward resident Annette Sanders.

The county health department is paying a company to staff the clinic, freeing up the fire department to do what they do best, responding to life-and-death emergencies.

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“We projected 10,000 patients in the first year,” said Alex Briscoe, director of the Alameda County Health Care Services Agency. “Again, the clinic has extended hours, 8 to 8. But I think the sky’s the limit with this model.”