Winnipeg facing ‘mass exodus’ of Firefighter Paramedics: Union

WINNIPEG — The union representing firefighters and paramedics in Winnipeg is raising concerns after a ‘mass exodus’ of Winnipeg’s firefighter-paramedics.

In a letter sent to members on Monday, the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg union said around 70 primary care paramedic (PCP) firefighters have left the fire paramedic program in the past year, with the majority of these people leaving in the past two months.

The Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service (WFPS) told CTV News a licensed paramedic is dispatched with each call. WFPS staff are hired as firefighter-paramedics, but can opt-out of the program after a certain amount of time. If they opt-out, they are classified as a firefighter only.

“We cannot emphasize more how disappointed we are in our administration’s response to the issues that are contributing to this mass exodus of our Fire Paramedics,” union president Alex Forrest said in the letter.

“For years, we have discussed the issues over and over again with our administration and constantly have either gotten no action, or the action that the administration takes has made things worse.”

Forrest was unavailable for comment on Wednesday.

In the letter, Forrest said some members don’t feel supported as paramedic providers.

Winnipeg’s Fire Paramedic Chief John Lane told CTV News the service is working with the union to find out more specific reasons behind their departures.

“While the number of PCP withdraw requests is higher than in past years and is somewhat concerning, WFPS is confident it will be able to maintain having a licensed paramedic on each apparatus we dispatch,” Lane told CTV News in a written statement.

Lane said this requires 240 fire paramedics. He said, with all the people leaving the program, by 2022 the service will have 294 fire paramedics on staff – still enough to provide a full compliment.

Lane said the exodus of firefighter-paramedics may result in some savings for the WFPS, as they earn about three per cent more than firefighters.

“We will be working with labour leadership to ensure the needs of the department are sufficiently met in order to continue to provide the same high-level service that Winnipeg residents currently receive,” he said.

Forrest said the union held an emergency meeting with Lane and other WFPS officials over the weekend to discuss the concerns, and in the meantime, he is asking the remaining fire paramedics to stay put.

“At this time of pandemic disaster in our community, we ask our members maintain our response capacity,” he said.

Forrest said if people need to opt-out of the program for their own mental heath, the union understands. 

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