LETTER: Firefighters no match for medics

Dear Editor:

Re: North Vancouver Firefighters Sound the 9-1-1 Alarm, July 27.

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I truly hope Mrs. Strom is recovering comfortably after having fallen down a flight of stairs and suffered injuries. What a terrifying and painful experience that must have been for her and her family. I know I'd be frustrated if she were my mother or grandmother. As a paramedic, I see firsthand the shortage of ambulances at the street level on a daily basis and agree with Brian Leavold that there is a dire need to enhance the current complement of existing ambulances and crews in the Lower Mainland. CUPE Local 873, the union representing paramedics and emergency dispatchers has been vocal on this shortage, reporting that in order to meet the national benchmark for response times in the Lower Mainland, the ambulance service must have 22 fully staffed ambulance units added to the current fleet.

Emergency room delays mixed with a cash-starved frontline of ambulance resources immediately affect waiting times for 9-1-1 medical calls. The 110 per cent increase in staffing reported by emergency health service representatives does not accurately reflect paramedic units available to respond to emergency calls in metro areas. Any increase in staffing is to bolster the rural and remote staffing crisis across B.C. and offset attrition in the metro areas; however, the fact remains that there has been no substantial increase in fully staffed metro units in years.

On the other hand, municipal fire departments have numerous apparatus and highly paid personnel available due to a sharp decline in fires, and despite being extensively trained in fire suppression and auto-extrication, firefighters have more or less the same medical training as a lifeguard at your local aquatics centre - emergency first aid and CPR. Currently, firefighters positively affect patient outcomes in less than six

per cent of medical calls, therefore the outcome in this case wouldn't have changed as arriving to "settle the patient" does little to add to the care required. Mrs. Strom, like all medical patients, require a team of paramedics with extensive equipment, training and assessment skills for treatment, management and transport of medical emergencies.

Despite a push by firefighters for increased medical training, this comes with an enormous bill, which would increase municipal taxes by double digit percentages and wouldn't increase medical care to a level worthy of attending even a fraction of medical calls. To use an analogy, it's absurd to think arming paramedics with fire extinguishers would substitute for the current fire suppression in communities, which is the extent firefighters would be increasing their medical skills. In the end, patients calling 9-1-1 with medical issues would still require highly trained paramedics to attend and initiate treatment and transport, a service residents already pay for.

Pete Smith

Advanced Care Paramedic CUPE 873

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