Anyone from Home got anything to add? Will it have any affect on the volunteer training program?

Training cuts anger fire chiefs

B.C. commission ends contract, jeopardizing first-aid programs

By Rob Shaw, Times Colonist October 17, 2009

B.C.'s fire chiefs say they're angry and confused by cuts to a provincial program that trains firefighters to provide medical aid before an ambulance arrives at the scene of an emergency.

The chiefs say they were blindsided last week when the province's Emergency Health Services Commission abruptly announced it will end a contract to pay for advanced first aid training for firefighters at the B.C. Justice Institute.

The move is effective March 31, 2010, but the Justice Institute has already started cancelling programs that certified senior firefighters, who then returned to train their own departments.

That's left fire departments asking tough questions about who will pay for future training, and whether it's worth cutting actual firefighting services in order to pay for what's supposed to be a voluntary program to help the B.C. Ambulance Service.

"Right now, the reality is the answer would probably be no, and I have to look at the program and look at the affect of us getting out of it," said Victoria fire chief Doug Angrove.

"If they are relying on the goodwill of some of the departments, well that could be a problem because goodwill only goes so far."

Under the first-responder program, fire halls dispatch firefighters to certain medical emergency calls -- such as unconscious collapses, shortness of breath and severe chest pain -- because they can often get to the scene more quickly than an ambulance and begin lifesaving first-aid procedures.

Traditionally, the B.C. Emergency Health Services Commission has helped to pay to train the firefighters at the Justice Institute in exchange for departments voluntarily helping the paramedics.

Cutting the training saved the Emergency Health Services Commission $250,000 a year and was part of a "very difficult decision" to find budget savings ordered by the provincial government, said Jim Christensen, vice-president for emergency and health services.

"We came to this year with the budget crunch and there was clear government direction that we will not be allowed to go over our budget, and with increased demand from all sorts of areas we were seriously at risk of doing that," he said.

The commission doesn't want to lose the first-responder program and is trying to find an alternative way to train firefighters, said Christensen.

But he admits it may cost fire departments more money for future training and he realizes, to them, it looks like downloaded costs.

Paramedics, who are locked in a lengthy labour dispute with the commission, say they support the firefighters.

"I agree with the fire chiefs, why would they continue?" asked BJ Chute, spokesman for the Ambulance Paramedics of B.C. union.

"If we had the appropriate number of ambulances and the appropriate number of paramedics, we wouldn't have to rely on the fire departments."

The lack of clear answers is frustrating, said Angrove, chairman of the Greater Victoria Fire Chiefs. The Victoria Fire Department has already submitted its budget to city council and there's little wiggle room to find extra money to train 23 firefighters whose certification as level three advanced first responders expires next year.

"If you pass on these costs to volunteer fire departments, or any fire departments, and they can't afford to stay in the business, and the B.C. Ambulance Service isn't well-resourced in those communities, then I think ultimately the patient is going to suffer," said Angrove.

The cuts come as numerous municipal councils renew liability agreements for the first-responder program. Firefighters call it providing "pre-hospital care."

"I think you'll find some communities will be asking that question, should we be involved in pre-hospital care?" said Stephen

Gamble, president of the Fire Chiefs' Association of B.C.

"Pre-hospital care right now really needs the fire service to assist. At this point, the capacity isn't there to just be run by B.C. Ambulance.

"So whether people come to the table willingly or not, they need to come to the table and talk about it. I'm confident they will. Cooler heads will prevail."

rfshaw@tc.canwest.com

Copyright (c) The Victoria Times Colonist