Nova Scotia

Volunteer firefighters seek medical training to ease lack of ambulance availability

A volunteer firefighter is concerned about the lack of availability of ambulances in Nova Scotia and wants to help out.

'I think it's more critical now than it's been in the past,' says deputy chief

Some members of a Cape Breton volunteer fire department are willing to take medical first responder training to help people waiting for paramedics to arrive. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

A volunteer firefighter in Cape Breton is concerned about the limited availability of ambulances in Nova Scotia and wants to help.

Deputy Chief Rod Beresford of the Westmount Volunteer Fire Department says some members are willing to take medical first responder training, which could help people waiting for paramedics to arrive.

The International Union of Operating Engineers, which represents paramedics across the province, has been running a social media campaign called Code Critical to raise public awareness when ambulances are unavailable.

Beresford said volunteer firefighters could at least ease some of the pressure.

"I think it's more critical now than it's been in the past," Beresford said.

The Westmount department has about 24 members, and at least 10 are willing to train as medical first responders, Beresford said.

Emergency Health Services, which runs the ambulance service in Nova Scotia, pays for a portion of the training and provides firefighters with supplies, he said.

But the Westmount department would have to come up with around $3,000 to have 10 members trained, and that's not affordable for volunteers, Beresford said.

The municipality doesn't officially support medical training for firefighters, said Deputy Chief Chris March of the CBRM fire service.

Chris March says some volunteer fire departments are already receiving medical first responder training. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

But he said 17 of 33 volunteer departments in the municipality are already paying for it themselves.

"I do believe that it's a valuable service that our firefighters can provide and probably should provide," March said.

"That being said, council of the day wasn't in favour of it. They looked at it as a cost we couldn't afford, and that it was provincial downloading."

March said CBRM unofficially provides some subsidy to volunteer departments that offer medical first response, by paying for maintenance, gas and vehicles.

However, he said, some departments choose not to train members as medical first responders because of the added cost and because of the time commitment involved in attending calls other than fires.

Mike Nickerson, business agent for the paramedics union, said his members don't object to firefighters getting extra first aid training.

But he said that wouldn't solve the issue of ambulances being tied up.

Firefighters with medical first responder training already help people in some areas, but they can't transport patients, Nickerson said.

"It's not going to take any pressure off," he said.

The Health Department, which oversees the ambulance service, didn't immediately comment.


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