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Fears over gaps in ambulance services in the East End

Firefighters from the Clearwater station deal with a trash bin fire. (File photograph)

A shortage of firefighters in the East End has sparked fears about potential gaps in ambulance cover for the area.

George Dowling III, the Mayor of St George, said that reports about fire station staffing problems — and the potential impact on its ambulance service — were “disturbing”.

He was backed by a spokeswoman for the Bermuda Hospitals Board, who said that the cutback would put extra pressure on its ambulances.

They were speaking after firefighters at Clearwater Fire Station were forced to only operate the station’s ambulance when there were enough staff on duty after they complained about safety risks.

Mr Dowling said that the East End’s shortage of fire service staff was “an unfortunate consequence to budget cuts and succession planning”.

He added: “Although, as Mayor, I understand the need to balance service costs with service expectations and delivery, I am hopeful that effective management of resources will effectively prioritise service calls so that the impact to the residents and businesses of the East End are minimal.

“I look forward to the time when the uniformed services can bolster their ranks so that the optimal service levels will be maintained.”

A Bermuda Hospitals Board spokeswoman said that a memorandum of understanding agreed in 2016 between the hospital and the fire service meant that BHB ambulances covered the western and central parishes and the fire service handled the east using its own EMTs.

The spokeswoman said: “Not having the ambulance as a reliable resource to transport patients in the East will put additional pressure on our own ambulance service, which will have to manage all calls for Bermuda.”

She added that the reduced ambulance fleet could need extra time to deal with emergencies.

The spokeswoman said: “We are obviously very sorry that the Bermuda Fire and Rescue Service will discontinue running the East End ambulance due to their labour dispute.

“We only had recent notice that the service is actually ceasing and the timing is unfortunate as we are also resource constrained, especially in the lead-up to Christmas and during a pandemic.

She added that the BHB hoped a way could be found to restore full island-wide emergency services.

The problem was revealed after Fire Service Association filed a 12-day notice of industrial action over insufficient staffing levels earlier this month.

The FSA said that the fire service needed at least 17 personnel to safely operate four vehicles spread across the island’s three stations — three fire trucks with five firefighters each and one ambulance with a two-strong crew.

But staff shortages meant that some shifts had only 12 staff on duty across the island.

Firefighters said the East End was particularly affected by the lack of staff because the Clearwater station was responsible for fire and ambulance services, but often only had the manpower to safely operate one of the two.

Clearwater firefighters will only be required to crew the ambulance when they have at least six staff on duty as part of a deal that came into effect last Monday.

But firefighters warned the decision would mean longer waiting times for ambulances in the East End because emergency crews would have to travel from the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital.

Michael Dunkley, the Shadow Minister of National Security, said that he was alarmed to hear the grievances raised by firefighters.

Mr Dunkley added: "In light of the fact the Government failed to fund five firefighter positions during the last Budget, it is certainly not surprising that they are experiencing manpower challenges.

“Now it’s up to the Government to take their concerns seriously and rectify the problem.

“This is a safety issue for the Bermuda Fire and Rescue Service and a public safety issue for Bermuda."

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Published December 28, 2021 at 7:56 am (Updated December 28, 2021 at 7:50 am)

Fears over gaps in ambulance services in the East End

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