Firefighters going to calls meant for police, says union president
The union president representing Winnipeg firefighters believes crews are increasingly going to calls meant for police and worries it could be due to a lack of police resources – a fact being disputed by both the deputy police chief and deputy fire chief.
“There’s a new protocol that started a few months ago where there’s been an expansion of the calls firefighters and fire paramedics go to,” said union president Alex Forrest.
“They’re going to calls that are not fire, not emergency medical, but they’re strictly a police-style call.”
Forrest highlighted an incident on Feb. 16 where firefighters were called to the Maryland Beer Store and Bar because of an intoxicated man.
“The reports came into dispatch that there was no medical emergency , but firefighters were still sent to this call,” said Forrest.
Forrest alleges cadets arrived on scene about two hours later, and that a fight ensued between the cadets and the intoxicated man, prompting the firefighters to jump in to help. That’s when Forrest said the intoxicated man reached for a gun in his pocket which first responders managed to get away from him.
“There’s no grey area in this call. Everybody knew in dispatch that this wasn’t a medical emergency or a fire emergency, it was a police call. This person had been kicked out of a bar multiple times,” said Forrest.
Officials from both Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service and Winnipeg Police Service have since reviewed the call. Winnipeg’s Deputy Police Chief Gord Perrier says the initial call came in for a man falling in and out of consciousness or sleeping, and that after firefighters arrived police were requested because the man couldn’t care for himself due to intoxication.
“At that time that call didn’t fit the highest priority and we had other calls that were of a higher nature and police attended those,” said Perrier.
Cadets arrived on scene about two hours later, and only became aware of the handgun while arresting the man, according to Perrier.
“It was once handcuffs were on, there was a struggle. That individuals tried to remove something from their waistband,” Perrier said.
Other police arrived on scene shortly after because the cadets called for backup according to Perrier.
Winnipeg fire Deputy Chief Christian Schmidt said he also listened to the initial call and that it was for someone passing out, which is why it would have been deemed a medical call.
Schmidt explained that crews have the right to “self stage” when they arrive on scene, meaning they can choose not to engage with someone and request help from police.
Schmidt also said new procedures are in place to give firefighters as much information about a call as possible before they arrive.
Schmidt confirmed fire officials are hearing concerns about crews being called to non-medical incidents they shouldn’t have to attend, but said it could be due to a lack of initial information when calls first come in.
When asked if police need more feet on the street, Perrier said from an operations perspective Winnipeg police have the resources they need.