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New Training Requirements for First Responders Could Threaten Program

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Keith Bueckert Crop
Niverville Fire Chief Keith Buecket. Brenda Sawatzky

For communities like Niverville, which benefit from the lifesaving efforts of a local Medical First Responders (MFR) chapter, changes may be underway that, for some, pose a real concern for the future of the program.

Recently, the College of Paramedics—the governing body that oversees MFR training, education, and promotion—made a decision to increase the required hours that it takes to become certified as a first responder. As of this year, MFRs may be required to take more than 300 hours of training, up from the previous 120 to 150 hours, effectively doubling the amount of time it will take to complete the program.

For more than 20 years, Niverville has been running an active MFR program through the auspices of the Niverville Fire and Emergency Services. According to fire chief Keith Bueckert, the number of emergency calls requiring MFR volunteers has been increasing in congruity with the rapid population growth of the community.

“We average over 200 medical calls a year, and this year so far we are already at a-call-a-day pace,” Bueckert says.

He adds that the province has determined the average acceptable wait time for an ambulance should be up to 30 minutes for communities that rely on ambulance services from nearby towns.

Thanks to the MFR program, the average wait time for Niverville residents to be attended to by a medical professional has been reduced to 6 to 10 minutes, depending on the time of day.

But while Bueckert would be among the first to acknowledge the importance of advanced training, there comes a point, he says, when one has to decide if the expectations placed on the student are inhibitive to recruiting new MFRs—especially when they are volunteers who are receiving very little remuneration for the important services they provide.

So far the College of Paramedics has determined that any existing MFRs can be grandfathered into the new program and won’t need the additional training to continue what they do.

But Bueckert and others worry about what this change will mean for new volunteers considering the program.

“The proposed 300-plus hours for training could cause hesitation for new members to go out and get the training,” Bueckert says. “This is a huge time commitment. Our members are all trained as firefighters, too, which is already over 320 hours of training to meet the requirements for the town… All this training takes time away from family, work, and social commitments.”

In response to Bueckert’s concerns, Niverville Mayor Myron Dyck took matters into his own hands this year. Dyck made a motion at the annual Association of Manitoba Municipalities (AMM) conference, requesting that they lobby the province on behalf of the 17 municipalities who currently have active MFR programs.

Together with the reeve of the RM of Morris and the mayor of Headingly, Dyck sought a sympathetic ear with the province.

“When we reached out to the… health minister, we were basically given a very curt and short two-sentence answer that ‘It’s not our problem. Talk to the College of Paramedics,’” Dyck says.

The trio of community leaders then met with the board of the College of Paramedics in early April. It is not yet clear whether their appeal will garner any meaningful results.

Mayor Dyck says that the general reasoning behind adding these hours to the MFR training curriculum is to equip new students with an even greater scope of medical expertise for attending to emergencies before the ambulance arrives.

According to Dyck, upon hearing this explanation from the board of the College of Paramedics, the mayor of Headingly aptly responded, “We’d all love to have a cardiac surgeon living in our basement, but that’s not realistic.”

Bueckert says that if the community values the MFR services, residents could help by putting additional pressure on their provincial MLA to help stop overregulation of the MFR program, which could be detrimental to the longevity of this lifesaving program.

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