Toronto

Paramedics oppose firefighters responding to medical emergency calls

Paramedics are voicing their concerns with a proposal that would allow firefighters to respond to emergency medical calls in Ontario.

Premier says no decision has been made but health and safety of Ontarians is her No. 1 priority

Paramedics and firefighters often work in close quarters during medical emergencies but the former is firmly against the fire medic proposal. (Tony Smyth/CBC)

There's a potential change brewing in the way first responders address medical emergencies that is not sitting well with paramedics in Ontario. 

The proposal is being tabled by the Ontario Fire Fighters' Association. It would allow firefighters with 20 hours of training to be dispatched to deal with medical emergencies.

A union representing paramedics is voicing their concerns with the proposal, citing a relative lack of health training for these fire medics. 

The move "is like playing Russian roulette with the public," said Jeff Van Pelt, chair of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which represents more than 6,000 paramedics in Ontario.

"Paramedics treat patients in emergency situations where lives are in peril. This fire proposal amounts to a dramatic reduction in expertise. Symptom relief skills should only be provided by a fully certified paramedic, not by those who are focused on a completely different profession."

Paramedics are required to attend a two-year program and pass a certification exam from the provincial health ministry in order to respond to urgent medical calls.

Can more lives be saved?

Firefighters have already launched an online campaign called SendFirefighters.ca that claims their profession are "expert first responders, trained in advanced first aid including CPR and defibrillation."

The campaign is stressing the move will not cost taxpayers more money and sending firefighters to medical emergencies can save lives because when people are hindered by a medical emergency, every second counts.

"Professional firefighters are already positioned across our community to arrive on the scene of a medical emergency quickly — often firefighters are the first to arrive on scene," the website said.

"Saving a patient's life often depends on how quickly a trained emergency responder can get to them."

Premier wants best response

Premier Kathleen Wynne said the province is evaluating the proposal but no decisions have been made.

Several provincial ministries are looking into the proposal put forward by the Ontario Fire Fighters' Association, according to Premier Kathleen Wynne. (CBC)
"Whatever we do, the No. 1 priority has to be that we base a decision on the evidence that will keep people the safest," she said.

For Wynne, the provincial government's objective is to ensure "people in this province, when they are in an emergency situation, get the very top care and the highest quality safety reaction."

The premier said the proposal is being evaluated by several ministries including the Ministry of Health but her views on the matter is simple. 

"Show me that [with] whatever change we make or don't make, we are ensuring that people are getting the very, very best care and the very, very best response. That's all that will concern me."

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