December 17, 2017

Winnipeg
-9° C, A few clouds

Full Forecast

Advertisement

Advertise With Us

Opinion

Infighting by firefighters, paramedics has messy history

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p>

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Is there anybody who thinks the interminable fight between Winnipeg's firefighters and paramedics is doing anything to improve the quality of care for sick, injured and otherwise vulnerable Winnipeggers?

The quick answer is no. Which makes you wonder: why do they continue to fight?

We were reminded this week that paramedics and firefighters do not get along when the former group confirmed that its union had filed a complaint under the collective agreement against Fire Paramedic Chief John Lane. The complaint alleges Lane has created a "disrespectful workplace." The matter is now the subject of an arbitration.

The origin of the complaint -- without a hint of sarcasm or embellishment -- goes back to an August 2015 International Association of Fire Fighters conference in Maryland, at which Lane allegedly made comments that "belittled and demeaned paramedics". The complaint, lodged in September 2015, alleges that Lane, accompanied by United Fire Fighters union boss Alex Forrest, suggested that single-role paramedics were threatening the delivery of fire fighting services.

Subscribers Log in below to continue reading,
not a subscriber? Create an account to start a 60 day free trial.

Log in Create your account

Add a payment method

To read the remaining 796 words of this article.

Pay only 27¢ for articles you wish to read.

Hope you enjoyed your trial.

Add a payment method

To read the remaining 796 words of this article.

Pay only 27¢ for articles you wish to read.

Is there anybody who thinks the interminable fight between Winnipeg's firefighters and paramedics is doing anything to improve the quality of care for sick, injured and otherwise vulnerable Winnipeggers?

The quick answer is no. Which makes you wonder: why do they continue to fight?

We were reminded this week that paramedics and firefighters do not get along when the former group confirmed that its union had filed a complaint under the collective agreement against Fire Paramedic Chief John Lane. The complaint alleges Lane has created a "disrespectful workplace." The matter is now the subject of an arbitration.

The origin of the complaint — without a hint of sarcasm or embellishment — goes back to an August 2015 International Association of Fire Fighters conference in Maryland, at which Lane allegedly made comments that "belittled and demeaned paramedics". The complaint, lodged in September 2015, alleges that Lane, accompanied by United Fire Fighters union boss Alex Forrest, suggested that single-role paramedics were threatening the delivery of fire fighting services.

The Manitoba Government Employees Union, which represents city paramedics, believes Lane's comments two years ago are "improper, unwelcome and inappropriate and offensive," and as such, are contrary to the city's respectful workplace policy and a breach of the Workplace Health and Safety Act.

Not to diminish the importance of working in a place free of intimidation and hostility, but there is something incredibly juvenile about one group of professionals complaining that comments made at a conference by another group of professionals thousands of kilometres away from home hurt their feelings.

And that raises a much larger concern: what is the impact on EMS services when two critically important professional groups within that network cannot resist the temptation to fight like a couple of randy mutts at the dog park? It's hard to imagine a scenario where it's a positive impact. And for that reason, both groups should be ashamed.

The paramedic-firefighter battle has raged for so long, it's really hard to say where it began.

The two groups never got along when they worked side-by-side in the earliest days of combined service. When firefighters began to acquire paramedic training, the gloves really came off.

The two groups have been constantly at loggerheads over differences in workload and culture. In short, firefighters believe they can and should do most if not all of what single-role paramedics do, with additional training. And finding additional duties is quite important in an age when the number of actual fires has dropped precipitously.

Paramedics, meanwhile, believe strongly that are better trained and prepared than dual-role firefighters to provide on-the-spot medical treatment. They also believe that they work way harder and respond to more types of calls than firefighters, most of whom sit idle for days and weeks at a time waiting for a fire or traffic accident.

This hot, messy dispute has regularly spilled over into municipal and provincial politics. The UFFW has served as a regular source of volunteer labour for politicians and parties of all stripes and colours. Their yellow t-shirts are a fixture in most elections. In recent years, however, smaller, unafiliated groups of paramedics have shown an interest in the same tactic, sending out blue-shirted volunteers to support the politicians of their choice.

The fire-paramedic fight boiled over at the 2015 NDP leadership convention. At a critical moment, just before the second ballot, party sources confirmed that Forrest and his UFFW delegates obtained an assurance from former Premier Greg Selinger to derail efforts by the paramedics to become a fully independent, self-governing profession. That support was essential in helping Selinger defeat challenger Theresa Oswald by just a handful of votes.

Alas, the NDP did not win the election. And it was to no one's surprise that paramedics, who had shown up in their blue shirts to support the Progressive Conservatives, convinced Premier Brian Pallister move forward with plans to create a College of Paramedicine to license and regulate all paramedics, including those who double as firefighters.

This additional layer of licensing, under the auspices of a body created at the request of paramedics, has been hotly contested by the UFFW. The allegations and counter allegations from the two groups about the potential benefits or drawbacks of self-regulation have flown for some time now. In actual fact, both sides are mostly wrong.

Self-regulation is not a solution, in and of itself. The benefit to citizens of self-regulation in other professions, particularly medicine and the law, has been mixed. Sometimes, it is effective at ensuring that all those practicing under a professional umbrella live up to the same standards. Other times, self-regulating bodies serve mostly as flak jackets to protect their members from having to answer for professional misconduct.

That having been said, there is a strong case for standardized regulation of any and all paramedical staff. It doesn't really matter if you're a firefighter or a single-role paramedic, there should be consistent best practices and guidelines. No regulation, which is what the UFFW appears to favour, isn't the answer either.

The important takeaway point is that the prospect of self-regulation has only exacerbated hostilities between firefighters and paramedics. If it cannot bring a measure of peace to this lamentable school-yard squabble, then it should be set aside until both sides learn to work together.

Paramedicine is simply too important to the health care system and the people it serves to be ravaged by infighting. Rather than filing complaints and hurling allegations at arbitration hearings, the fire fighters and the paramedics need to get together and find a solution moving forward that both can live with.

And then, they should stop fighting. If we can get both sides to demonstrate some adult-style maturity, then perhaps we can get on to more important issues, like self-regulation.

dan.lett@freepress.mb.ca

Read more by Dan Lett.

Advertisement

Advertise With Us

You can comment on most stories on The Winnipeg Free Press website. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective January 2015.