South Australia’s volunteer firefighters are already attending a growing number of medical emergencies and are not trained to deal with the trauma, according to the head of the Country Fire Service (CFS).
- Taskforce to examine firefighter assistance during medical call-outs
- CFS chief Mark Johns has raised concerns about the plan
- Volunteers attended 1,000 medical emergencies in 12 months
CFS chief officer Mark Johns has raised concerns about a state government probe into whether firefighters should attend more medical call-outs as the SA Ambulance Service (SAAS) remains under increasing pressure.
Premier Peter Malinauskas today launched a taskforce to look into the concept, after a 47-year-old father-of-two died in Plympton while waiting 40 minutes for an ambulance to arrive.
Mr Johns is not on the panel, however, Metropolitan Fire Service (MFS) chief Michael Morgan and South Australia Ambulance Service (SAAS) boss Robert Elliott will be part of the taskforce, along with Health Minister Chris Picton and union representatives.
“I lead a government that is open to ideas about what we can do to relieve pressure [in] any way we can,” Mr Malinauskas said.
“One such measure that is being proposed is drawing on the resources of the MFS to potentially respond in ways that are safe — all options are on the table.”
He said the taskforce had been established “in haste”, but other measures the government wanted to introduce — such as employing more paramedics — would take time.
CFS attend 1,000 medical emergencies
Mr Johns said his firefighters were already doing that, attending about 1,000 medical incidents in the past year and 14 this week.
“They attend these with no specialist medical training and no additional mental health support,” he said.
“Additionally, these incidents often happen in small communities, where the volunteers are turning up to an incident where they know the casualty.”
He said the volunteers responding to medical situations were doing it “outside the scope of their standard duties, in their own time, without pay and without the same support as paramedics.”
“Our volunteers are routinely called upon to attend traumatic events beyond the scope of their firefighting duties and these jobs fall outside of most people’s expectations when they join the service,” he said.
“I have seen the number of SAAS-assist jobs that our volunteers are expected to attend grow significantly.
“This is something that has occurred without any formal agreement or additional support for our volunteers doing an already tough job.”
Mr Jones said volunteers were trained in first aid but there was a “large difference” between providing CPR and addressing the underlying clinical health issues of a patient.
In a statement, an SAAS spokeswoman said the service already worked closely with fire services and police to support South Australians during a medical emergency.
“We are excited about the opportunity to work further with the SA Metropolitan Fire Service on a co-response model for the community here in [South Australia]and hope to grow the program over time,” she said.
“Any initiative that supports early CPR and early defibrillation is potentially life-saving.”