The Fire Chief for Niverville is concerned about the future of the first responders program in his community. 

Keith Bueckert is referring to the Medical First Responders (MFR) program that has been operating for more than 20 years in Niverville. This program is community-based and its purpose is to provide pre-hospital care before the ambulance shows up. Its future remains uncertain thanks to a recent announcement by the College of Paramedics. 

The College of Paramedics is the agency that now handles Emergency Medical Services in our province. Bueckert says the College is considering increasing the training hours required to become an emergency medical responder in Manitoba. Currently, the program calls for anywhere from 120 to 150 hours, but Bueckert says the College is wanting to double that to almost 350 hours.

"I'm not in favour of this being switched to 350 hours and a lot of my colleagues that are running these similar programs are not as well," says Bueckert.

The Niverville Fire Chief says the MFR program is run out of about 16 communities in Manitoba. Other communities running an MFR program in southern Manitoba include Rosenort and Emerson.

According to Bueckert, the Niverville Fire Department has about 20 MFRs. He notes, if this change goes through, his MFRs would be grandfathered and would not suddenly need to up their training to 350 hours. Bueckert says thankfully his community has little to no turnover each year. However, he notes the hardship will come with trying to attract new MFRs in the future.

"It's a huge commitment with 150 hours these days," says Bueckert. "But to make it 350 will really, I think, create an issue with how we recruit people."

For the record, Bueckert says he is all for training, noting you do not want someone unqualified showing up to an emergency. However, he notes there comes a point where if too much is expected, these volunteers will simply not be there. 

"It would definitely, I think, give a lot of people a lot more hesitation to putting that much time in for their community," he adds.

The Niverville Fire Department averages well over 200 medical calls a year.

Bueckert says he is doing the best he can to communicate with the College of Paramedics, with hopes of getting them to reconsider these changes. He is urging Manitobans to contact their MLA, let them know the importance of this program and that the training requirements should not need to change. 

Niverville Mayor Myron Dyck is lobbying on behalf of his fire department. Dyck recently met with the College of Paramedics, together with the Reeve for the RM of Morris and the Mayor for Headingley. Dyck says in their discussions, the College was adamant that its responsibility is to set the standard for care. He notes the College would love it if volunteers on scene had more knowledge in order to better assess whether or not an ambulance was needed imminently.

"I mean that is wonderful, I'm sure we would also all love it if we had a cardiologist living in our basements, but we don't," Dyck notes. 

Dyck says the only good news is that the College will grandfather communities like Niverville and not require existing MFRs to double their training hours. But, his concern is that one day Niverville might need to recruit new members, yet the training requirements might limit the pool of interested applicants. He notes their MFRs have other commitments including work, family and volunteer responsibilities and to expect them to put in all of these training hours might be asking too much. 

This topic came up at the spring convention for Association of Manitoba Municipalities. Dyck says when they asked the Minister of Municipal Relations Eileen Clarke about the situation, her short response was that she was aware of it.