In an emergency situation, would you prefer a paramedic who has had two years of appropriate training, or a firefighter with several weeks of medical first aid training?
Former Health Minister and Toronto Mayoral candidate George Smitherman is advocating an amalgamation of the city’s ambulance and fire services.
He claims that such a merger would save money and improve services, but he has no evidence to back up these claims. Instead Smitherman is relying on a paper long in rhetoric and short on data to make his case.
The paper, put together by Ontario’s Fire Chiefs and unions, is advocating for dual-trained and licensed firefighter-paramedics, with fire trucks often attending an emergency instead of ambulances.
Several questions come to mind:
Are all fire fighters to receive the same degree of training as paramedics, and who will pick up the cost? Similarly, are trained paramedics expected to go out and fight fires? These are very different functions with very different training requirements.
Regardless of who is the first responder, an ambulance is still required to transfer the patient to hospital and the paramedic is required to treat and care for the patient according to provincial protocols and standards. It is the paramedic who is responsible for all patient care on the scene.
Unlike many new ideas that have saved lives – including the widespread distribution of defibrillators in the community, citizen CPR, improved dispatch protocols that assist at the scene prior to the arrival of ambulance – this idea is more about saving money.
Ever since the firefighters produced their paper, OPSEU’s paramedics have been trying to arrange a meeting with Rick Bartolucci, Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services. It seems the Minister, having been promised savings from the Fire Chiefs, would rather not hear about the down side of this proposal.
There is no question that paramedics are stressed by years of underfunding and underresourcing. The answer is in providing more crews and resources, not having lesser trained firefighters do the job.
In 2000-01 the idea of the firemedic was raised in Owen Sound. When the facts were assessed, the public overwhelmingly objected to the plan. The Mayor subsequently lost the next election – something George Smitherman should keep in mind.