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BY ISOBEL RUSHE

Local firefighters with inadequate medical training are forced to answer paramedic calls under a new proposal that changes department policy.

New “First Responders” program leaves NSW Fire Department’s out of their depths as the policy demands to have firefighters acting and performing as paramedics.

Secretary of the Australian Paramedics Association (APA), Gary Wilson said: “Given the significant training that paramedics undergo, it is unlikely that the average first responder would have significant knowledge and skills to deal with the medical emergencies that paramedics take on.”

Firefighters will not only be a front-line responder in their own field but also in paramedical services.

Across the state, ambulances take on average 7.65 minutes to respond to a call of the highest priority, when the patient’s life is potentially under threat.

With Firefighters spending an average of 4.8 minutes at a scene before other authorities arrive, you can see why there is a need to be medically trained to an extremely high standard.

Even though the program hasn’t been officially released, the Fire station has already received an abundance of medically related calls.

The introduction of this scheme would mean that the fire department and ambulance station will be in close communication relying on each other quite heavily. The program is said to help the departments in workload, the Firefighter’s union disagrees.

In a First Responder action plan report, spokesperson for the NSW Fire Brigade Union, Jim Casey said: “This government is trying to hoodwink the community into believing firefighters can just fill the gaps. Well, we are not buying it. Stop public sector budget cuts, fund our hospitals and let us get on with our job.”

There is a growing Concern that an emergency medical response role would be used as a ‘Band-Aid solution’ for major problems facing the NSW Ambulance and the NSW health system broadly.

Secretary of the Health Services Union NSW, Gerard Hayes said: “It’s completely inappropriate for firefighters to perform paramedic duties. The only reason this is happening is because of the crisis in paramedic staffing levels. This cuts both ways. What happens when a firefighter can’t get to an emergency because they are doing work that should be performed by a paramedic?”
“NSW has the nation’s strongest economy and a bulging $5.7 billion surplus, yet all too often desperate families are left with an anxious wait for an ambulance while their father, mother, husband or wife has a cardiac arrest. We are simply not keeping pace with population growth.”

The NSW Fire Brigade Head office has refused to comment or communicate this official change to their employees.

In 2015/16 Fire and Rescue NSW responded to 122,827 emergencies, an average of 337 per day or roughly one call every four minutes. With 30% of these calls being medically related it is integral that the staff are adequately trained for these situations.

The NSW Fire Brigade Union said: “To carry out this scheme our firefighters will require a higher level of first aid skills and training.”

In order for adequate training to be provided NSW Ambulance must allocate their own staff to do so, Gary Wilson said: “As the NSW ambulance provide the program, issues are raised training external entities when many of our own staff themselves feel they do not receive enough training.”

NSW ambulance paramedic, Jason Randorson said: “Due to funding cuts we can sometimes have resource issues, It’s a big job we constantly need more help. I can see what they are trying to do but it’s a worry that we may not have access to the appropriate training for all staff.”

Mr Hayes confirmed this need for new staff to start immediately: “In Sydney’s West, a city the size of Newcastle is being built over the next fifteen years, yet the paramedic workforce is already at crisis point. This needs to change but making firefighters fill the gaps is not the way to do it,” He said.

There is no suggestion that the firefighters will be used to provide non-emergency patient transport services.

The NSW fire department still waits on the response of head office to address their concerns.