Ontario firefighters slam paramedics in bid to take on medical emergencies

Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association released a video this week that slams the province's paramedic system, saying response times are too slow, while costs continue to rise.

Video criticizes slow response times and rising costs of Ontario paramedics

Paramedics load the young man into an ambulance on the Drive. (Gian-Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

In a campaign that criticizes the province's paramedics, Ontario firefighters say they have a plan to improve response times for medical emergencies.

Ontario Professional Fire Fighters' Association released a video this week that slams the province's paramedic system, saying response times are too slow, while costs continue to rise.

"EMS has problems. Firefighters solve problems," a narrator says in the video, which is part of a lobbying campaign to convince government to allow some fire fighters to perform paramedic duties.

"What we're looking to do is lift those restrictions and allow that licensed paramedic to practice their skill set, regardless of the colour of truck they arrive on," said Rob Hyndman, president of the firefighters association.

CUPE has long fought the ongoing campaign from fire fighters to expand their medical emergency roles. The latest video tries to "paint a picture that there's something wrong with the current EMS system," explained Corey Nageleisen, a paramedic and vice chairman of the CUPE ambulance committee of Ontario.

"I'm disappointed with it," he said. "It's really unfortunate to see a smear campaign being launched by the OPFFA."

Push to change legislation

About 10 per cent of fire fighters have some paramedic training, but they can't perform those duties in an emergency because of provincial legislation, Hyndman explained.

OPFFA is urging the province to use fire services as an extra resource in pre-hospital care, which it says will save money because fire fighters are more efficient.

Hyndman expects the province's auditor general to highlight rising costs of Ontario Emergency Medical Services, without any improvements to service, in a report coming next week.

Paramedics say public safety is an issue in a proposed mixed model because firefighters do not have the level of training their EMS counterparts have, according to Nageleisen.

"Our paramedics, they are — first and foremost — medical professionals," he said. "The second you start looking at blended models and fire medics and whatnot, you're starting to produce a culture where professionals are becoming a jack of all trades and masters of none."

Bruce Krauter, chief Essex-Windsor EMS said he feels the response time is very good. (CBC file photo)

Essex-Windsor EMS chief Bruce Krauter is pleased with the region's response times for paramedics, which sits at an average of eight minutes in the city and 10 minutes in the county.

"That's from the time the person calls 911 to the time the ambulance arrives on scene," Krauter said. "The other emergency services, whether it be police or fire, I don't know how they calculate their response times."

Krauter introduced a data dispatch system in recent months to help improve response times. The program sends information from the 911 call to the paramedic's computer.

The information, including location and route, makes "ambulance response more efficient and paramedic time more efficient and effective," Krauter said.

Essex-Windsor EMS has 260 paramedics. Of those, 106 are full-time staff. Krauter said both EMS and fire services in the region have response systems that work well together.