A group of firefighters at the centre of allegations of racist-fuelled patient neglect in the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service may soon be back on the job.
United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg president Alex Forrest issued a memo Tuesday, announcing the City of Winnipeg’s "disciplinary process has now concluded" and the four firefighters would be "back at work shortly."
"We cannot go into any details at this time but rest assured we are supporting our members… We also want to advise the membership that this issue is not finished," Forrest wrote.
"We will ensure that all aspects of justice for what these members went through will be followed through by the UFFW to the fullest extent."
The union did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday, but in a notice dated March 10 and posted on the UFFW website, Forrest vowed it will "educate on what truly occurred regarding this incident."
"I cannot say how proud we are of how our brothers dealt with this issue, and we will be reaching out to all of the major organizations that wrongfully called for the termination of all four of these firefighters," Forrest wrote.
However, when reached for comment, a city spokeswoman contradicted the UFFW, saying there is a "multi-step disciplinary process" outlined in the collective agreement between the union and municipal government — and that process is "still ongoing."
"We will not comment on any specific disciplinary action taken with respect to any individual involved in this process," the spokeswoman said in a written statement. "As we have said previously, appropriate action has been taken to deal with the concerns raised, and there is no risk to the public or patients."
Controversy erupted after a WFPS paramedic accused some firefighter colleagues of refusing to help provide medical care to a 23-year-old Indigenous woman who had stabbed herself in the throat last October in the North End.
The paramedic further alleged the firefighter crew had delayed the patient’s transportation to hospital.
As a result of the accusations, which were taken directly to WFPS Chief John Lane, the city hired a third-party consultant to probe the case.
The independent investigator’s final report ruled firefighters had declined to provide requested medical assistance and delayed the patient’s transportation to the hospital by two minutes.
While the investigator did not recommend disciplinary action, she did rule the firefighters' conduct was likely motivated by implicit — or unconscious — racial bias and a lack of concern for the patient’s well-being.
It remains unclear what, if any, disciplinary actions were taken against the four firefighters, or if the disciplinary process is finished (as the UFFW says) or ongoing (as the city claims).
Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union president Michelle Gawronsky said in a written statement Mayor Brian Bowman and senior city management need to take seriously "the troubling findings" of the third-party report.
The MGEU represents city paramedics.
"When an independent investigator found troubling evidence that racial animus resulted in delayed medical care to a critical injured Indigenous woman late last year, it once again called into question the culture within the WFPS and the need for real change," Gawronsky wrote.
"Paramedics have been vocal for many years about discriminatory and disrespectful behaviour within the WFPS, and have pressed the City of Winnipeg to show leadership and address these issues. Unfortunately, we have seen very little evidence of meaningful change so far."
In a written statement, a city spokeswoman pointed to the municipal government’s "commitment to delivering anti-racism training to all City of Winnipeg employees," adding a cultural assessment of the WFPS workplace is currently underway.
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