Fire officials on P.E.I. are cautioning the public that medically-trained volunteer firefighters may not always be available to respond to 911 medical emergency calls.

The issue surfaced when firefighters with medical first-responder training in Georgetown were unavailable to respond to a 911 call about a 69-year-old man suffering from a stroke just a few blocks from the station on Sept. 25.

Mark Gotell - custom

Georgetown Fire Chief Mark Gotell says not all volunteer firefighters have time to invest in medical training courses. (CBC)

Kayla Dicks and her boyfriend, who is the man's grandson, waited 15 minutes for an ambulance to arrive after calling 911. The ambulance response time was within the normal range for the area.

Seeking an explanation

Dicks made a second 911 call during that time to ask why the fire department hadn't responded even though they were just down the street.
Dicks said she saw a number of firefighters respond to a car accident a few weeks earlier, so she called Georgetown fire Chief Mark Gotell for an explanation.

'It's something that some people just can't handle or don't have the stomach for, I guess.' - Mark Gotell, Georgetown fire chief

"Five fire trucks showed up for that one accident, and I told him, 'You had four or five fire trucks show up for that one accident, 'and I said, 'You couldn't send one firefighter?'"

The Georgetown Fire Department has 26 volunteers.

Gotell told CBC News that while they can all perform basic first aid, only 12 of the firefighters have taken the medical first-responder training.

Kayla Dicks

Kayla Dicks wanted to know why the local fire department didn't respond to her 911 calls. (Submitted)

Gotell said none of the volunteer firefighters who showed up at the station the morning of the call had the full training.

He said many of the medical first-responder volunteers have full-time jobs outside the town. 

Dicks says she thinks there should be funding to support the need in the community. "In a place that is so small and there's no ambulance, there's no police department, there's no EMS, they should have something there. I would like to see them take a little bit of funding — either put in an EMS or at least medically-train a fire fighter to be on call all the time."

Public may expect too much say officials

Gotell also said his other members may not have the time to invest in medical training courses, or may not be interested. 

"Sometimes you're doing CPR on somebody who has passed and you're trying to revive them," he said. "It's something that some people just can't handle or don't have the stomach for, I guess."

P.E.I. Firefighters Association president Jason Peters said public expectations for volunteer firefighters may be a bit high. 

"That's kind of up to each individual to try and find out what their fire department does offer to them so that they know up front whether or not they're going to be there," he said.

Peters reminded the public that Island EMS is responsible for medical calls, and volunteer firefighters are only a backup.

with files from Pat Martel