Public health pushes for firefighters to carry epinephrine injectors

When Hamilton firefighters arrive first to a medical emergency that involves an acute allergic reaction, they should be able to administer a life-saving shot of epinephrine, says Hamilton Public Health Services.

Training firefighters and equipping trucks with epinephrine could cost the city around $25,500

Public Health recommends Hamilton Firefighters carry epinephrine auto-injectors on their trucks to allow them to respond in medical emergencies. (CBC)

When Hamilton firefighters arrive first to a medical emergency that involves an acute allergic reaction, they should be able to administer a life-saving shot of epinephrine, says Hamilton public health officials.

Unlike other firefighters in Ontario, those in Hamilton don't carry epinephrine injectors, sometimes called EpiPens. For calls that require one and when seconds count, firefighters have to wait for paramedics to arrive.

The city's board of health will meet Monday to discuss a proposal that would see epinephrine injectors placed on all front line fire trucks that could be sent to medical calls. A formal recommendation from the Hamilton Fire Department and the city's Public Health Services will be presented at the meeting.

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The cost of the proposed program, including purchase and training, would be approximately $25,500, the document reads. If the proposal is approved, this cost would be absorbed in the 2016 fire department operating budget.

Epinephrine is also known as adrenalin. The injectors are disposable needles that are roughly the size of a highlighter and are typically carried by people with severe allergies to things like peanuts, shellfish or bee stings.

It would cost an additional $23,000 every other year to maintain the program. The devices expire after 18 months and would need to be replaced, whether or not they're used.

Firefighters sometimes the first on scene for medical calls

Between August 2015 and January 2016, Hamilton Paramedics responded to 99 calls for suspected anaphylaxis, the recommendation reads. Of those 99 incidents, firefighters were the first to arrive on scene for nearly one out of every five calls. 

Of those 99 incidents, 32 patients used their own epinephrine injectors before first responders arrived and 48 patients received epinephrine from paramedics. 

Epinephrine is considered the therapy of choice by first responders when dealing with any anaphylactic reaction, the recommendation states. When the drug is administered, it is injected into a muscle. With this type of treatment, there is a low risk of resulting health complications, the proposal reads. 

If the board approves the recommendation from public health, Hamilton will follow after other cities that have already allowed their fire departments to carry epinephrine injectors, including Brampton, Niagara Falls and Toronto.