The head of the Association of Municipal Emergency Medical Services of Ontario says firefighters can be a valuable resource when it comes to medical calls, despite the fact that a February study shows they are needed for just one to two per cent of medical calls.

Norm Gale, who is also head of Superior North EMS in Thunder Bay, was put on the hot seat recently after the provincial association’s study revealed how infrequently firefighters are needed for medical calls. The study was discussed in a Toronto Sun Oct. 12 article, which Gale said he found to have an anti-firefighter tone.

He noted the idea behind the study was to gather information about the best patient care possible, for the best price.  Gale said some fire departments in southern Ontario want to expand their role in medical calls. Now, a tug of war is developing between firefighters and paramedics in some Ontario cities, as each group tries to prove its value and head off possible budget cuts.

"People are well served by paramedics and firefighters in the city of Thunder Bay," Gale said.

'Money well spent'

Eric Nordlund, who leads the Thunder Bay Firefighters Association, said that even with some additional costs, if firefighters save a life, it's money well spent.

"In our city, there really is very little cost involved, other than some training, and some extra fuel to go out the door," he said.

Gale said the goal of firefighters and paramedics working together is to save lives and noted the current agreement between the two Thunder Bay services accomplishes that.

"We have what's referred to as a tiered response regimen wherein firefighters provide important support to paramedics in responding to emergency medical calls," he said.

"And that support of firefighters is welcome, and indeed, has resulted in lives saved."