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