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Why does city's fire optimization plan ignore us, paramedics wonder

Plan falls short in several areas, union says, but in particular the growing demand for ambulance servicea

There's an element of the Nickel City's emergency medical service that feels it isn't getting its due and proper when it comes to Greater Sudbury's plan to update fire protection services.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents, among others, the city's paramedics, said in a news release today that when it comes to consultations, paramedics are being left out in the cold.

"Meaningful dialogue about enhancing paramedic emergency medical care doesn't seem to be on the radar," Darryl Taylor, president of CUPE Local 4705, who also happens to be a paramedic. "And it most certainly should be since ambulance call volumes have increased significantly and fire calls declined."

The city is currently holding public meetings about its fire optimization plan, an effort to update Greater Sudbury's fire protection services. 

Trevor Bain, the city's chief of fire and paramedics services, has said the current layout of fire services is actually a kludge of services inherited by Greater Sudbury through amalgamation. No work has ever been done to update or streamline the system that's in place.

The plan is complex, but briefly, the city is looking at spending $15 million more a year (raising the budget from $49 million to $64 million) in order to speed up response times and to fund a greater complement of full-time or career firefighters. 

The plan would greatly reduce the number of volunteer firefighters in the city, and would increase the number of career firefighters by 58. Currently, there are 108, while the volunteer force is supposed to be 350, although the city hasn't been able to recruit the full complement and sits at 265.

The plan would also reduce the number of fire stations from 24 to 15.

CUPE argues that the demand for paramedic services — which is funded 50-per-cent by the province, whereas fire services are funded through municipal taxation — is growing and there should be something in the plan to address that issue. 

The presentation Bain has been giving at community centres around the city does, in fact, include mention of paramedics. Noting paramedic services has a more modern system than fire services and solid response times, the plan focuses on fire because the service requires more updating.

But, Taylor said in the CUPE news release, "the lack of a plan to meet growing emergency medical services needs means the plan falls short."

CUPE also said calls for EMS have been rising for a decade, while fire calls have been falling. The union said in 2015, the last full year of available data, fire responded to 4,327 calls for service, while paramedic services responded to 32,717 calls.\