TORONTO The union that represents City of Toronto paramedics says it has been warning the city for over a year that paramedics working alone are in danger of being attacked and even killed on the job. An Emergency Response Unit (ERU) paramedic was badly beaten on Monday night after being flagged down by what appeared to be a woman in trouble.
For over a year, we have warned the city about the dangers of paramedics working alone but it took a serious incident to get the city to wake up, says Brian Cochrane, the president of the Toronto Civic Employees Union, Local 416 CUPE. We made repeated attempts to get the city to listen to our recommendations. Despite all our warnings, and despite the incident on Monday, they only agreed to do something when we approached them again this morning. We have said all along that we should not have an emergency response programme if we cannot afford to do it safely.
The City of Toronto has received provincial funding for its emergency response programme since the 1970s, but night assignments were only added three years ago.
FBI warns of hijacking threats
We have had a lot of incidents, says Rory ONeill, a paramedic and the labour co-chair of the joint occupational health and safety committee. Ambulances and ERU vehicles are targets because people are looking for drugs. The city sent a notice to paramedics this week, following the incident, telling them that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is warning that emergency medical services (EMS) vehicles may be the target of hijackers. Management is telling us that if we feel we are in danger for any reason, we should leave the scene and notify a dispatcher. This advice is just not good enough. A situation can appear to be safe when it is not. We told them again this morning that the first step is to have paramedics work in pairs at all times.
While management was warning our members about threats by hijackers, among others, says Cochrane. They failed once again to discuss the situation with the union until we approached them this morning.
The union says that the city does not always assign its most highly trained paramedics to the ERU vehicles and that adds to the safety concerns. There should be two Level 3 paramedics in every ERU vehicle, says ONeill. Adding Level 3 paramedics would have other benefits. We would have more paramedics on the road and fewer highly trained Level 3 paramedics keeping patients company in hospital hallways until a doctor is available.
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