Fire departments fear changes to training will deter volunteer medical responders


They’re often times the first on the scene of a medical emergency in parts of rural Manitoba.

Emergency medical responders help treat patients in areas where ambulances have to drive longer distances to get to a call.

But proposed changes to the training required to volunteer have some municipalities concerned about the future of the service.

“By enhancing the skill level of medical first responder (MFR) departments you’re essentially killing them so nothing’s been gained but a great deal has been lost,” said Glenn Reimer, the manager of Headingley’s MFR department and a longtime emergency medical responder himself. “The interventions that we would provide, awaiting the ambulance, are in many cases lifesaving.”

Headingley has 15 emergency medical responders and is one of 13 municipalities across Manitoba with a medical first responder department. While there is a small amount of pay, it’s a job people volunteer for in service of their community, Reimer said.

But now Reimer worries the service may be in jeopardy due to proposed changes to the number of training hours required to become a volunteer.

The changes are being proposed by the College of Paramedics of Manitoba which now regulates the profession across the province.

It wants to increase the number of training hours required from the current 120 hours to 360 hours which many rural fire departments fear would make it more difficult to find new recruits.

“So they’re looking at tripling the hours, basically, and that would mean recruitment would be next to impossible to recruit volunteers for that type of position,” said Nick Young, the fire chief in Miniota, Man.

Municipal officials passed a resolution at this week’s Association of Manitoba Municipalities convention calling on the province and the college to reconsider the changes. The college said, while it understands the concerns of municipalities, the current curriculum hasn’t been updated in six years and since then the scope of practice has grown significantly for emergency medical responders.

“We believe that our protection of the public interest and providing high quality emergency response care to the citizens of Manitoba that this will improve the care that is currently being delivered,” said Trish Bergal, executive director and registrar of The College of Paramedics of Manitoba.

The delivery of certain medications is one example of an area where more education is required, Bergal said.

She said the college wants to make sure volunteers feel confident in their training when responding to emergencies.

In addition to more hours, the cost of the training is also expected to increase, however, some municipalities say they cover the cost for volunteers.

Reimer said emergency medical responders (EMRs) can already voluntarily upgrade their training. He said forcing them to do so may be seen as a barrier to potential volunteers.

“It’s just asking too much because these people all work full-time, are raising families and they have to fit this training in outside of their regular lifetime responsibilities,” Reimer said.

The college said, under the proposed changes, existing EMRs wouldn’t have to complete the new requirements but it’s the impact on finding new volunteers that has Reimer worried about the future of his department. 

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