The union representing city firefighters wants the province to seize control of ambulance services in Winnipeg.

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This article was published 15/3/2021 (222 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The union representing city firefighters wants the province to seize control of ambulance services in Winnipeg.

In a letter to Premier Brian Pallister, the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg president Alex Forrest says the move would be "in the best interests" of all concerned.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>In a letter to Premier Brian Pallister, United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg president Alex Forrest says the move to have the province seize control of ambulance services in Winnipeg would be "in the best interests" of all concerned.</p></p>

RUTH BONNEVILLE / FREE PRESS FILES

In a letter to Premier Brian Pallister, United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg president Alex Forrest says the move to have the province seize control of ambulance services in Winnipeg would be "in the best interests" of all concerned.

Forrest claimed that his members and paramedics, represented by the Manitoba Government and General Employees Union (MGEU), are in agreement on the issue.

The provision of ambulance services is a provincial responsibility. The province currently contracts this out to the City of Winnipeg.

Forrest's letter, dated March 15, comes days after the MGEU demanded the immediate removal of its members from city fire halls. Paramedics say they're increasingly concerned about an unsafe working environment.

Unlike many other Canadian cities, Winnipeg operates an amalgamated firefighting and paramedic service. The relationship between firefighters and paramedics in the combined service has always been an uneasy one. The gulf between them is now as large as it's ever been.

The latest controversy surrounding the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service came after a paramedic accused two of his firefighter colleagues of refusing to help treat and transport a seriously injured Indigenous woman during a call in October.

Forrest did not consult the paramedics' union before claiming the two groups had agreed the province needed to step in to remove the paramedic service from city control, the MGEU said.

The MGEU has yet to take a public stand on whether the province should take control over city paramedic services.

"As of right now, the City of Winnipeg is the employer at the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service, and there is an urgent crisis in this workplace," MGEU president Michelle Gawronsky said in a statement. "As we said last week, the city should immediately take steps to remove ambulance-based paramedics from the often toxic environment in fire halls. Regardless of any future transition to another level of government, this needs to happen as soon as possible."

Derek Balcaen, principal officer within UFFW and a frontline firefighter paramedic, told the Free Press that the impetus for the letter was "to make it crystal clear" that firefighters are supporting the MGEU's position that ambulances be taken out of fire halls.

"Health is a provincial responsibility and we believe that if they (paramedics) were fully run and overseen by the province then their needs and their concerns would be better addressed by the province directly."

Winnipeg has been calling for an updated deal with the province to keep providing paramedic services. It's also seeking greater provincial funding.

Health Minister Heather Stefanson said Monday that negotiations on a new emergency response services contract between the province and city are ongoing.

In a statement to the Free Press, the minister did not respond directly to Forrest’s letter.

"We are aware of the ongoing internal issues within the WFPS. However, as these are internal operational and human resource matters, it would be more appropriate for the WFPS to respond to these concerns," she said.

If the province were to take control of city paramedic services it's unclear how that would affect the current system in which both ambulances and fire crews respond to medical calls in Winnipeg. At least one licensed primary care paramedic is aboard every city fire truck.

— with files from Joyanne Pursaga

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

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