PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Pittsburgh firefighters and paramedics are fighting a turf battle and the public is caught in the middle — literally.
A recent flap involves a child who had gotten himself trapped between the bars of a jungle gym at West Penn Park. Almost simultaneously, EMS Rescue 1 and Pittsburgh Fire’s Engine 6 converge — setting the scene for a confrontation over whose duty it is to extricate a victim. The paramedics union says its members have advanced life support training needed in these situations and the job is theirs alone.
“We have people that have hundreds and hundreds of hours of training, decades of experience of doing this. The fire bureau doesn’t — they just lack expertise that our personnel have,” says Pittsburgh paramedics vice president John Atkinson.
According to public safety reports, the two crews asses the situation and decide upon using a hydraulic tool to spread the bars. EMS radios their truck nearby to bring the spreaders, but seeing fire already has the tool on scene, an arriving fire battalion chief orders the fire crew to use it.
In his report, the fire chief writes: “Feeling the child was in distress, I instructed Eng. & Trk. 6 crew to use the spreaders to free the child.” And fire union head Ralph Sicuro says it was the right call rather than wait on EMS.
“I know as a parent, as a grandparent, I would not want any more delay in getting my child removed from that situation,” Sicuro says.
The paramedics union calls the action unnecessary and rude.
“Reckless and disrespectful to the EMS crews that were onsite,” paramedics union president Jeff Tremel says.
The paramedics returned to their truck but their union has now filed a grievance against the firefighters, calling the action a breach of contract and policy. The Public Safety department is conducting its own investigation, bringing the turf war over extrications to a head.
For its part, the fire union says its members have the equipment and the training but are being thwarted by EMS in using them.
“The taxpayers, the citizens, have already provided the training and knowledge for our people to the same level for rescue purposes — not as a paramedic — to be able to extricate someone from a situation. Why should they be denied somethings they’ve already paid for?” Sicuro said.
But Atkinson said, “Who do you want coming to rescue you from a situation like this? Someone who has probably never done it before? Or do you want someone who might arrive a couple minutes after that but who has done this countless times over many decades of doing it?”
This incident is now before the public safety department’s newly formed conflict resolutions board designed to resolved these kinds of disputes.