A statewide plan to have firefighters act in place of paramedics has been met with caution in Deniliquin.By Zoe McMaugh
A NSW Government plan to have firefighters supplement the job of paramedics has been met with some caution locally.
In its Reform Plan for NSW Ambulance proposal, the government has indicated it will investigate a First Responder Program.
It could see both firefighters administering medical treatment in emergencies if it is going to take too long for an ambulance to arrive. It is aimed at reducing ambulance response times.
Local firefighters and ambulance personnel say it is uncertain whether the plan will be rolled out into rural areas, but said there would be mixed reactions if it was.
One of the most concerning potential outcomes for Mid-Murray Zone Rural Fire Service manager Superintendent Lindsay Lashbrook is the negative impact it will have on attracting and retaining volunteer firefighters.
‘‘Very few people in rural areas will want to take it on,’’ he said.
‘‘Our members are mostly farmer groups and we have already seen that our level of volunteering is certainly declining.
‘‘It is getting harder and harder to find volunteers, and to put this on top would just compound the issue.’’
The NSW Opposition has expressed concern the move could put patients at risk, but neither Supt Lashbrook or NSW Ambulance Greater Southern Sector zone manager Bruce Purves listed it as a local concern.
But Supt Lashbrook did highlight that firefighters were not properly trained to respond to a variety of medical emergencies.
‘‘In rural areas, I think they will be drawing a big long bow if they say it’s going to come in.
‘‘In country areas the emergency services each have their own responsibility and the ambulance service here is well resourced.
‘‘We are sometimes the first on scene is rural and remote areas, but our members are firefighters and not paramedics and as such can only administer first aid.
‘‘All vehicles are fitted with a defibrillator, which we can use for the public, but they were fitted for firefighter safety.’’
Mr Purves said he was under the impression the policy would be targeted at urban or metropolitan areas, where there is a 24-hour fire station.
He said implementing such a policy in areas like Deniliquin may not have any impact on reducing response times.
‘‘In places like Albury and Wagga they have 24 hour permanent stations and permanent firefighters who can possibly respond straight away.
‘‘If you call out a volunteer, it may still take some time.
‘‘If an ambulance is held up there is a chance the firefighters could be first on scene, but because they can be called from work or home there is no guarantee response times will be quicker.’’
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