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Ambulance and Fire Service co-operation

29 November 2007

Ambulance and Fire Service co-operation: Sensible use of community resources

Collaboration between the Ambulance Service and the Fire Service is logical and sensible as both are community-owned resources, St John Chief Executive Jaimes Wood said today.

Mr Wood is responding to reported comments from the Fire Service Commission to the Health Select Committee inquiry into ambulance services yesterday, and a media release on the subject today from the National Party.

The Fire Service Commission’s submission describes the long and positive relationship between the two emergency services, and the Memorandums of Understanding between the services which affirm the close relationship.

“I believe close collaboration to deliver the best results for the community is what the New Zealand public expects and deserves from their emergency services,” Mr Wood said.

The Memorandums of Understanding include an agreement that Fire will co-respond with - or in advance of - Ambulance services to accident or medical emergencies where their personnel, equipment or proximity would make a difference to patient outcomes. The Commission’s submission expresses concern that Ambulance requests for assistance are increasing.

“A key point is that Ambulance services in New Zealand are not sufficiently funded to meet the ever-increasing demand for ambulance services - driven partly by an increasing and ageing population, and increases in chronic health conditions,” Mr Wood said. “Our repeated requests to the government for increased funding have been responded to with only minimal, targeted increases which have not been sufficient to meet the overall annual increases in Ambulance demand of 6 to 8% a year.”

The St John submission to the Health Select Committee inquiry calls for a substantial lift in government funding for Ambulance – from about $75 million a year now to reach $150 million a year by 2015.

“Clearly the Fire Service concern is if co-response levels lift to a level where their capability to respond to fire emergencies is compromised, and we would echo that concern,” Mr Wood said.

The Ambulance and Fire Service work together at a range of accident and medical cases all over New Zealand for very sensible and logical reasons, Mr Wood said. The Fire Service has unique equipment and capability to provide essential assistance that ambulance officers cannot provide, e.g. the jaws of life to cut patients out of vehicles and the physical capability to lift obese patients. The Ambulance service is uniquely placed to assist the Fire Service by providing clinical care at fires and incidents involving hazardous substances; and training fire fighters in first aid.

Ambulance calls the Fire Service for assistance more often partly because the Fire Service is substantially better resourced. As evidenced by the comparative figures below, the Fire Service receives approx twice the central funding per head of population than the Ambulance service, while responding to approx a quarter of the number of incidents.

Central funding Fire Service: Receives $60 a head in central funding (i.e. from the insurance levy) St John: Receives $24 a head in central funding (i.e. from ACC, Ministry of Health and District Health Boards)

Incidents attended Fire Service: Attends approx 66,000 incidents a year (including fires, motor accidents, chemical emergencies, medical assistance to Ambulance) St John: Attends approx 250,000 emergency incidents a year

Vehicles Fire Service: Approx 800 fire appliances St John: Approx 550 ambulances and operational vehicles (Approx 600 across all NZ Ambulance services)

Stations Fire Stations: Approx 435 fire stations St John: 185 ambulance stations (Approx 200 across all NZ Ambulance services)

People Fire Service: Approx 1,680 career (paid) fire fighter positions Approx 8,000 urban volunteer fire fighters St John: Approx 800 paid ambulance officers Approx 2,300 volunteer ambulance officers.


- Fire Service figures (excluding central funding) are from their website

- St John is New Zealand’s largest Ambulance service provider, providing Ambulance services to approx 85 per cent of the population and approx 95 per cent of the geography.

- New Zealand’s other Ambulance service providers are Wellington Free Ambulance, and the Wairarapa and Taranaki District Health Board Ambulance services.


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