Winnipeg paramedics sought to help Fort McMurray wildfire evacuees

Some Winnipeg paramedics could be heading west later this week to help people who have fled the wildfires in Fort McMurray, Alta.

Volunteer paramedics could be dispatched to Alberta evacuee centres as early as Friday

An evacuee from the Fort McMurray wildfires checks his smartphone as he rests at a shelter in Lac la Biche, Alta., on Friday. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Some Winnipeg paramedics could be heading west later this week to help Fort McMurray wildfire evacuees.

The Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service is looking for volunteers within its ranks who would be interested in being deployed to Alberta for up to a month.

The volunteers will head to Alberta as early as Friday and be stationed at evacuee reception centres around the province, said fire paramedic Chief John Lane.

Lane said while it's currently unclear what specific duties will be assigned to the volunteers, they will generally provide health-care services to evacuees who need them.

"Typically, paramedics in this situation would look after the sort of daily health needs of people who are away from home and are in more or less cramped living conditions sort of under temporary circumstances," he told CBC News on Monday.

"There could be people who have left without their medications, there could be people who have mobility issues or chronic health conditions for whom it's more difficult to carry on sort of daily activities in a setting like an evacuee centre. So we're envisioning that the paramedics would be sent to assist with that sort of thing."

'We are certainly scrambling'

The request for volunteers came from the Public Health Agency of Canada, via the Manitoba government and the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.

Lane said the service and other paramedic agencies across Canada are being asked to respond on Tuesday with how many volunteers they can send.

"They're trying to muster this in very short order for deployment possibility as early as Friday," he said.

"We are certainly scrambling, which is why we've sought the co-operation of all three of our bargaining units."

Some paramedics have already expressed interest since the call for volunteers went out to staff on Monday afternoon, he added.

"It's really in the nature of emergency service workers to want to help, and I suspect that we will have a very strong response to this request, certainly here in Winnipeg and I expect, really, right across the country," he said.

Lane said the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service will make sure local services are not affected.

Other details, including the costs of deploying the volunteers, have not been worked out at this time, he said.

He added that paramedics should not "self-deploy" to Alberta, as it's safer and more effective to go as part of an official response unit. The same point was echoed last week by Alex Forrest, president of the United Firefighters of Winnipeg, who urged his members not to go to Fort McMurray on their own.