Fire Fighting in Canada

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Paramedics sound alarm on fire-medic proposal

Aug. 12, 2015, Toronto - A recent proposal to allow Ontario firefighters to give patients medical treatment has the province's paramedics seeing red.

The Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association is proposing a two-year pilot project in eight cities that would see firefighters get trained to administer five drugs to relieve symptoms like chest pain and shortness of breath.

The province's Liberal government says it is reviewing the proposal and is in the process of making a decision based on the best available evidence.

The paramedics' union says it will be targeting leaders of communities that would be subjects of the pilot project at the annual conference of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario in Niagara Falls next week.

The pilot project would involve firefighters, some of whom are already trained as paramedics, taking a 20-hour training course to give patients drugs before paramedics arrive on scene.

Chris Day, the vice-chairman of CUPE's ambulance committee, says paramedics have "grave concerns'' about patient safety and firefighters ability to diagnose patients and administer medication with such little training.

"You need to know a lot more about what's going on than just a gentleman or a lady saying to you, 'I have chest pain,''' he said.

"To be able to do a proper assessment and then go through the process of setting up before actually administering any kind of medication ... we would be on scene long before then and we would be taking over patient care.''

He said the union feels it is an effort for firefighters to deal with decreasing call volumes and to keep their jobs.

The fire association's president Carmen Santoro said he's frustrated that no one seems to be accepting the proposal, and that a similar model has successfully been in place in the U.S. for more than three decades.

He said it's not about taking over the paramedics, but that firefighters usually respond to emergency situations in the first crucial minutes that can mean life or death for patients.

"This is not a turf war because we're not looking to take over paramedics, we're not looking to add staff, this is about using what we already have,'' Santoro said.

"We're not saying we're going to be paramedics after 20 hours, all we're saying is after 20 hours we'll be able to administer those five simple drugs.''

Firefighters in Ontario can currently administer oxygen, take vital signs, and about 42 per cent can use EpiPens.

Santoro said that he believes that there is a lot of fear-mongering going on, which is something he has seen before.

"When we first had defibrillators, the talk was, we were going to kill people,'' he said.

"Well you know what, we didn't kill people, we saved a lot of lives.''