THUNDER BAY — The same consultant could end up reviewing both the firefighting and the paramedic services of the City of Thunder Bay—and delivering reports on both at about the same time—but a city official says "there is absolutely no plan in the works" to join the operations in some way.
The city recently issued a request for proposals to develop long-term strategic plans for Thunder Bay Fire Rescue and Superior North Emergency Medical Services.
City Hall wants to see the outcomes and recommendations by the end of August.
Mark Smith, General Manager of Development & Emergency Services, will lead the city's steering committee working with the consultants.
Smith said it just so happened that the previous strategic plans for fire and paramedic services expired around the same time, and there may be some efficiencies in having the new plans prepared by the same company.
But merging elements of the two services "isn't part of what we want to explore...there is no agenda at play in terms of trying to blend fire and EMS at all," he said in an interview with Tbnewswatch.
Smith noted that when that was suggested a number of years ago, it was discussed "only very briefly, with the idea that 'no, there is no utility there.' "
Winnipeg is one Canadian city that has amalgamated its fire and paramedic services, with two branches led by one chief. Most Winnipeg paramedics are based in fire stations.
Thunder Bay Fire Rescue employs 211 firefighters and civilians, and operates out of eight fire stations.
Superior North EMS employs 190 people including 170 full-time and part-time paramedics working out of 18 stations in the city and in communities across the District of Thunder Bay.
More than half of Thunder Bay Fire Rescue calls in 2018 were medical calls
Firefighters respond to about 9,000 incidents a year, while paramedics deal with about 33,000 calls annually.
In 2018, TBFR responded to 9397 calls, of which 278 were fire calls and 5100 were medical-related. The remainder were other calls for service such as automatic alarms, motor vehicle collisions, rescues and hazardous spill calls.
According to the city's RFP, as part of the fire service review, the consultant will examine TBFR's involvement in medical 911 calls "and comment on their utility and effectiveness."
Smith said the city wants to look at "the degree to which there is value added" by the fire service's response to medical calls.
"There have been questions raised, on many occasions, about the utility of having fire charge off to medical calls. So...to what extent are their activities related to medical calls, and...can the system by which the resources are deployed be made more efficient?" he said.
The reviews of both services will include examining the locations of existing stations, projected call volumes to the year 2030, and ways to reduce call demands.
Smith said the city is "making no bones about the fact" it is looking to find efficiencies and opportunities for savings while maintaining "appropriate" service levels.
But given the possibility some of the consultants' recommendations will be controversial in the community or among stakeholders, he said he wants to ensure all the findings are evidence-based.