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This article was published 13/3/2015 (2086 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Opinion

On behalf of firefighters and fire-paramedics across Manitoba, I was disappointed to read the column by Mary Agnes Welch (Bullies with an axe to grind, Mar. 11) which was insulting to all firefighters in Manitoba who risk their lives daily for the citizens they serve.

Firefighters make no apologies for being successfully involved in politics. We have to be involved in politics in order to advocate for public safety. Political decisions determine how successful we are in saving lives. Our involvement in politics affects everything from the resources we need to do our job to issues such as the safety of our clothing and equipment to a proper level of support for firefighters who are hurt or killed doing their job. We are successful because we do not simply support one party; we support those who support public safety and firefighter safety. In past municipal elections we have supported councillors from across the political spectrum. We are respected and trusted in the community as you can tell from the polls -- we have a 96 per cent rate of customer satisfaction in the city of Winnipeg.

In Winnipeg, we fight fires on a level that is unequalled anywhere in Canada. With one of the harshest climates in the world with wind-chills as low as -50 and humidex levels that can reach 45 degrees, we remain on the job. As well as responding to fire calls, we have voluntarily taken on the role of paramedic response and we now have 400 paramedics who ride on 40 fire trucks and have the same licence as the paramedics who are on ambulances.

In addition, advance life providers are assisted by our system so that they are available when needed and we are proud to do that. In total, we respond to 40,000 medical calls every year, twice as many as the Toronto Fire Department that serves more than three million people and they have 3,000 firefighters to our 950.

Winnipeg's system of firefighting and EMS response is one of the most cost-effective systems with the best patient outcomes of any major city in Canada, largely due to our response times.

We save lives like no one else, a fact that is supported by statistics.

At the NDP convention, we made the difference for Premier Greg Selinger as we have with so many other politicians. We do not always win but we work hard to make a difference. There were no deals; we supported Selinger because he has supported public safety and firefighter safety for decades. These accusations are nothing but part of the internal politics of the NDP.

Paramedic self-regulation will be decided on its merits. Our members respond to 80 per cent of the paramedic response calls in Manitoba but we were shut out of the application process.

This application was not supported by the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, the City of Winnipeg or the fire-paramedic chief. It was also not supported by a single paramedic in either Thompson or Brandon. This was never an issue of firefighters versus paramedics, but an issue of what is best for the people of Manitoba. Paramedic self-regulation will place an unnecessary financial burden on paramedics and will just add another level of bureaucracy.

It was an idea put forward by rural paramedics to try to fix the issue of paramedic response in rural Manitoba. Even MGEU past president Lois Wales, in a memo dated June 18, 2012, declared a clear, concerned opposition to paramedic self-regulation. Moreover, Ontario has also said no to the application for paramedic self-regulation -- for the same reasons we have put forward. Interesting enough, MGEU's provincial union counterpart also spoke against paramedic self-regulation.

Welch's description of firefighters as bullies is ridiculous, especially considering that the Paramedic Association is backed by MGEU, the largest union in Manitoba. How ironic that the MGEU president sent a letter to Selinger regarding paramedic self-regulation that seems to try to bully him into accepting something that has failed based on its merits.

We have great respect for our brothers and sisters who are paramedics on ambulances. We have supported them in the past and we will continue to support them whenever we can. We are all part of a team that is making a difference and saving lives.

 

Alex Forrest is the president of the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg and a trustee with the International Association of Fire Fighters. He is a lieutenant in the Winnipeg Fire Department.