Paramedics could soon be riding on fire trucks, depending on the results of a study now under way at the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV).
The academic paper will explore how to deliver fire services in a more cost-effective, safe and sustainable way, according to Surrey Fire Chief Len Garis, also chair of the national Fire Community of Practice.
UFV will be partnering with the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs and Defense Research to help improve Canada’s fire services. Garis said the study is aimed at making fire services across the country more sustainable and efficient.
UFV is receiving Canadian Safety and Security Program funding of $134,550 to conduct two research projects. The second study will form a framework for new policies.
“We’re going to make sure there is success, and if there’s not, we’re going to be abandoning things,” Garis said.
He said that could mean changes in the way fire services answer medical calls.
“We probably need to rationalize what we’re doing there and make sure the citizens are getting the best value for what’s being delivered,” Garis said. “An outcome could be integrating those services so that there’s less duplication.”
For example, Garis said that could mean basing a paramedic out of each fire hall, so that a person in distress would receive more advanced medical care as soon the fire trucks arrive. (Fire trucks are typically the first on scene at emergency calls. Firefighters have advanced first aid and CPR training ).
As well as receiving treatment faster, if the patient didn’t require or want transport to hospital, the call for an ambulance could then be cancelled, Garis said, freeing it up for other calls.
In Winnipeg, there is a paramedic on every fire truck. The city also has a municipal ambulance service.
Garis said it’s much too early to say what will happen, and discussion about actions after the study is purely hypothetical.
Towns such as Nelson, Campbell River and Prince Rupert have been cutting back on fire services because they are so expensive.
Merging of fire services could be a possibility in some of the smaller towns.
Surrey made an offer to merge with White Rock fire services some time back, but the idea was turned down by politicians. Garis said he has no plans to reawaken that debate.
“We’ve already demonstrated there’s value in that,” Garis said. “If (White Rock residents) are prepared to pay more, that’s up to them.”
The study will be finished by the end of September. After that, the fire committee will seek federal funding to run pilot projects.