Manitoba

Pressures from COVID-19 push Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service to increase its staff

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed gaps in many systems that Winnipeg’s fire paramedic service has filled. Now, faced with its own staff shortage due to COVID, the service is considering boosting its numbers in the long-term.

Staff shortages impetus for WFPS to explore how they can recruit staff, avoid burnout

Christian Schmidt, chief of the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service, says the service is doing what it can to manage absenteeism due to COVID-19. (Tyson Koschik/CBC Manitoba)

The Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service is exploring how to increase and maintain employees during a winter with more fires in the city, more patients to take care of, and Omicron spreading faster than any coronavirus variant.

The service, along with many other organizations in Manitoba, has been dealing with a staffing shortage for weeks due to COVID-19. As of Friday, 74 employees were off with COVID-19, representing about 4.8 per cent of all WFPS employees — a drop from last week's report. 

However, WFPS Chief Christian Schmidt told the city's protection, community services and parks committee on Friday that they're still in manage-mode. The fire operations hit a high point between Christmas and New Year's Day, with a single platoon reporting about 84 absences, he said.

"We are very fortunate that staff answered the calls they received from platoon chiefs, and were setting aside personal matters to come in for shifts," Schmidt said.

"Had that not been the case, we would have found ourselves in a situation where we would have to place units out of service."

To avoid that, Schmidt said, the service is trying to redeploy staff to the front lines, but that's tough since the vast majority of them are already there. He says the service has delayed internal training for a few months, and also is considering bringing a close-to-graduated class from its training academy in to work.

As of Friday morning, the city reported 331 active cases of COVID-19 among all city employees. That includes the Winnipeg Police Service — that organization wouldn't release its numbers, but told CBC in an email that case numbers are down from the reported total of 170 employees off either with COVID or who are following COVID-19 protocols. 

Winnipeg Transit's numbers have gone up to 84 from 76, representing about 5.4 per cent of its staff.

Councillors want report for recruitment, expansion

Even if case numbers go down, there still needs to be a long-term fix to burnout and overtime, says Coun. Sherri Rollins (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry).

Throughout the pandemic, emergency paramedics have helped other services stay afloat, working in personal care homes and emergency rooms during crises. To tackle this, Rollins brought forward a walk-on motion to get the service to look at how it can expand in the long run.

Coun. Sherri Rollins put forward a walk-on motion, asking the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service to explore ways to boost staffing quickly and in the long-term. (Sean Kavanagh/CBC )

She suggested the service work with Shared Health to rapidly increase current staff. One option is to increase the number of staff in the "emergency paramedics in the community" program. They patrol the streets, helping vulnerable people in crisis.

"So we can triage and get the folks to the front lines who should be there, free up ambulances and use our staff in a way that supports Winnipeggers."

Schmidt said the motion is reminiscent of conversations he's already had with Shared Health, so coming up with a city report "will be helpful to get us over the finish line."

"These are the kinds of steps we need to be taking to be sure that when people call 911, they will receive prompt service from a paramedic and an advanced-care paramedic in a timely manner," Schmidt said.

Rollins is also asking the service to come back with equity and inclusion strategies for recruitment.

The service has until June to deliver a report.

Pressures from COVID-19 push Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service to increase its staff

6 months ago
Duration 2:21
The Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service is exploring how to increase and maintain employees during a winter with more fires in the city, more patients to take care of, and Omicron spreading faster than any COVID-19 variant.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sam Samson

Journalist

Sam Samson is a multimedia journalist who has worked for CBC in Manitoba and Ontario as a reporter and associate producer. Before working for CBC, she studied journalism and communications in Winnipeg. You can get in touch on Twitter @CBCSamSamson or email samantha.samson@cbc.ca.

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