Hiccups with fire service and medical calls

MATT BOWEN
Last updated 05:00 03/05/2014

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Fire Service management have admitted there are "teething issues to be resolved" in relation to firefighters co-responding to St John Ambulance's critical medical emergencies.

The admission comes after chief fire officers at busy Waikato volunteer brigades reported members ignoring calls due to the increased number of medical callouts.

They also feared that the change had the potential to damage recruitment.

The Fire Service refused to comment on the issue earlier this week, instead referring the Waikato Times to an earlier press release regarding a Memorandum of Understanding between themselves and St John.

But yesterday, following publicity in the Times, Fire Service national operations manager Stu Rooney said there were teething issues to be resolved.

But generally the change was progressing well and lives were being saved. In 2012 St John and Wellington Free Ambulance introduced new response protocols - the most time-critical emergencies, namely reported cardiac and respiratory arrests, are coded as ‘purple' incidents.

St John receives an average of 11 of these ‘purple' calls each day out of more than 350,000 total calls each year.

Under the new deal that was implemented nationwide in December 2013, a fire appliance and an ambulance are dispatched to all purple incidents.

With more than 400 fire stations around the country, firefighters can often reach the patient ahead of an ambulance to begin CPR.

"The intent behind the change was to make the best use of our joint resources, our level of training and our equipment," he said.

"Once it is operating effectively we expect to be responding to fewer medical calls as there are only a dozen or so cardiac and respiratory arrests each day.

"As with any new system, there have been some early problems affecting a small number of volunteer brigades and we are steadily working our way through the solutions with St John."

Rooney said volunteer and career firefighters provide a broad emergency response within their communities.

"This includes providing assistance for some medical events. We wanted to standardise our medical response so that our career and most volunteer stations are dispatched only to situations where their CPR first aid skills could help save lives."

There are also more than 60 volunteer brigades that have chosen to provide a broader medical response and members have trained to a higher level of first aid.

"Introducing consistency to the way these two different levels of medical response is managed is taking time, but we are working closely with St John and they are being very responsive to each issue that arises."

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The Fire Service said a steering group made up of representatives from St John, Wellington Free Ambulance, the United Fire Brigades Association, the New Zealand Professional Firefighters Union, and the Fire Service had now been set up to fine tune the procedures to make the response as effective as possible.

- Waikato Times

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