Manitoba

Firefighters encounter man with gun on medical call, union says

The union that represents Winnipeg firefighters says members have been forced to attend emergency calls that should be dealt with by police.

UFFW president Alex Forrest says it’s just one example of firefighters having to respond to police matters

The president of the union that represents Winnipeg firefighters says they're being forced into dangerous situations because police aren't available. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

The union that represents Winnipeg firefighters says members have been forced to attend emergency calls that should be dealt with by police, because there aren't enough police officers available.

In a statement posted online, United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg president Alex Forrest said in a recent incident, two firefighters were sent to a downtown Winnipeg hotel to deal with a patron who refused to leave the bar after being kicked out several times.

The caller confirmed the person did not have a medical issue, but fire crews were sent anyway, Forrest says.

Alex Forrest, president of the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg, made the statement on social media on Wednesday. (CBC)

Once there, fire crews found an intoxicated man and requested police attend. After a two-hour wait, police cadets arrived, a struggle ensued and the man pulled out a gun, Forrest said.

Firefighters helped disarm the man and bring him under control, Forrest said in the statement posted on social media Wednesday.

"These firefighters could well have been injured or killed in this incident, and it is clearly an incident that required police presence, not the presence of unarmed firefighters from the outset," he said in the statement.

'The gun was a very big surprise to everyone'

Police and fire paramedic officials have a slightly different version of the event, which they say happened on February 16, after a call came in about an intoxicated person at the Maryland Hotel.

"A male was in and out of consciousness, possibly sleeping. At that point, that call was then sent to fire paramedic service, who evaluate what type of resource should be sent to that place," said WPS Deputy Chief Gord Perrier.

Perrier said once fire paramedic crews arrived, they determined the person could not care for himself and needed to be taken into custody under the Intoxicated Persons Detention Act, at which point police were requested and the call was put in the queue.

WPS Deputy Chief Gord Perrier said the presence of the gun surprised everyone on scene and there was no prior indication the man may have been armed. (Warren kay/CBC)

Perrier admitted several hours passed before cadets arrived but the call was deemed low priority, which Perrier said is not uncommon.

Once cadets arrived and placed the individual under arrest and handcuffed, there was a struggle.

"That individual tried to remove something from their waist band, which we now know to be a gun," said Perrier.

Police said there was no indication of a weapon at any time until the arrest was in progress.

"The gun was a very big surprise to everyone on scene," said Perrier.

Police said Wednesday they were unable to say if the gun was loaded at the time. The man is facing charges, police said.

Perrier said anytime a situation becomes dangerous or something criminal in nature becomes apparent, fire crews should remove themselves and call for police.

"They should disengage, they know they should disengage," said Perrier.

Dangerous incidents increasing, union says

Forrest said the incident is just one example of firefighters being put in dangerous situations that they are not trained or equipped for, due to "current dispatch protocols."

Christian Schmidt, deputy chief of operations and communications for WFPS, said he is hearing from crews that they are encountering more dangerous scenarios, but says resources are assigned based on information available to dispatchers at the time of the call.

"My understanding is a lot of [the concern] is coming from some of the information gathered after the crew has arrived on scene," said Schmidt.

Perrier, along with Schmidt, said they would be taking a closer look at the call to see if there is anything that can be learned form the incident and approved upon in the future.

When asked if he felt Forrest was deliberately raising the issue in-advance of the city budget's release on Friday, Perrier said Forrest has a job to do as union leader. 

"I'm certainly not going to take any cheap shots nor am I going to undermine his comments," said Perrier.

Forrest said he requested meetings with both the Winnipeg police chief and Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service operations staff but no meeting has taken place.

Perrier said there are processes available to Forrest to address his concerns, and he encourages him to follow that process.

In an interview with CBC News, Forrest reiterated firefighters should not be attending calls better suited to police.

"These are dangerous calls. We need to know why we are being sent to these calls now because we are not prepared. We are not police officers. We're firefighters and we aren't equipped to deal many of these calls we're going to," Forrest said.

"When we get calls such as 'person being kicked out of a hotel multiple times, no medical condition, just go check on him,' that raises alarm bells."

With files from Bartley Kives

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