NEW England paramedics will travel to Sydney next week to support their major metropolitan colleagues on deciding whether strike action will
be taken over the NSW government’s plan to involve firefighters in a “first responder” capacity.
Health Services Union NSW says members are likely to vote at the meeting on February 15 for a statewide strike, which comes after a NSW Health report explored the possibility of replicating a pilot program from Victoria where firefighters were used to reduce emergency response times and improve patient survival rates.
Manilla NSW Ambulance intensive care paramedic and HSU sub-branch president Bob Wales said country NSW were not “second class citizens” and if the government wanted to cost-cut, it should look at its own backyard first.
“I’m in favour of the program for rural communities that don’t have a fully staffed ambulance station, but it should not be used to prop up existing measures,” Mr Wales said.
“There are a few questions that need to be answered including who will put out the fires when firefighters are out playing paramedics?”
Mr Wales said the program, which operates in Nundle and Uralla already, was a “band-aid measure” for communities without a permanent station and would not be effective in an area the size of Tamworth or Armidale.
“To replace a professional ambulance officer with a firefighter is far from ideal for the communities that we’re serving,” he said.
Mr Wales said the job of the first responder on the scene of a medical emergency was to attend and look after the patient until a trained paramedic arrived.
“It’s designed to give that initial response to a job, get someone there and quickly,” he said.
HSU secretary Gerard Hayes said on Monday only a clinically trained paramedic with the tools and knowledge to keep a patient alive should be tasked to such emergencies.
“Sending the fire brigade with a first aid kit when someone needs an oxygen mask simply will not cut it,” he said.
Meanwhile Tamworth firefighters agree, saying medical emergencies should be left to those trained for them.
A firefighter from NSW Fire and Rescue Tamworth brigade said the feeling in the station was that firefighters did not want to take jobs away from ambulance paramedics.
“Firefighters are only trained in basic first aid,” the man said.
“Paramedics are trained professionals in their field and they do a magnificent job.”