Vast ma­jor­ity of Hamil­ton’s 30,157 fire calls last year were for med­i­cal emer­gen­cies

The Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - JOANNA FRKETICH jfr­ketich@thes­pec.com 905-526-3349 | @Jfr­ketich

Med­i­cal emer­gen­cies make up 70 per cent of the fire calls in Hamil­ton and grow­ing.

“The rea­son we’re go­ing to that is be­cause it’s about putting a qual­i­fied re­source on scene quickly,” fire Chief David Cun­liffe told the city’s emer­gency and com­mu­nity ser­vices com­mit­tee Thurs­day. “It’s the calls where im­me­di­ate or rapid in­ter­ven­tion could help to change that pa­tient out­come.”

The Hamil­ton Fire De­part­ment an­nual re­port re­vealed 287 of the 30,157 to­tal calls in 2016 turned out to be ac­tual struc­ture fires. There were an­other 580 ma­jor events, such as gas leaks or rope res­cues.

That com­pares to 21,152 med­i­cal calls in 2016 — an in­crease of 10 per cent over the year be­fore and 13 per cent since 2014.

The year-over-year in­creases prompted Ward 7 Coun. Donna Skelly to ques­tion whether it’s nec­es­sary for fire­fight­ers to re­spond to so many med­i­cal calls.

“I want to turn to some­thing that is a pretty sen­si­tive is­sue,” she said. “It’s re­gard­ing what could be con­sid­ered the du­pli­ca­tion of ser­vice be­tween our first re­spon­ders — paramedics and fire­fight­ers — and the ob­vi­ous on­go­ing fi­nan­cial pres­sures.”

Cun­liffe stressed fire­fight­ers only go to life-threat­en­ing med­i­cal emer­gen­cies.

“We are con­stantly and work­ing to­gether and hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions about how best we can pro­vide the level of ser­vice be­tween the agen­cies,” he said. “At the end of the day, we all rec­og­nize that there are sig­nif­i­cant pres­sures on the com­mu­nity and it’s in our best in­ter­est to do what we can to help.”

Emer­gency med­i­cal ser­vices Chief Michael San­der­son said it is “crit­i­cal” to have fire­fight­ers re­spond to calls when a life is at stake.

“The dif­fi­cult part is to un­der­stand be­fore we ar­rive on scene which ones are the life-threat­en­ing sit­u­a­tions that ac­tu­ally re­quire the re­sponse,” he said. “I think we can do bet­ter with changed dis­patch pro­to­cols and make sure they are on the right call at the right time.”

The jump in med­i­cal calls in 2016 was greater than the over­all in­crease in fire calls for the year. There were 1,929 more med­i­cal calls in 2016, but over­all fire calls only went up by 1,875 dur­ing that time.

Coun. Matthew Green asked staff to re­port on the cost of fire­fight­ers re­spond­ing to med­i­cal emer­gen­cies ver­sus paramedics. He ad­mits de­ci­sions can’t just be based on cost when it comes to life and death.

“When I call 911 for an emer­gency, I don’t care how much it costs; I just want peo­ple to get there fast,” he said.

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