Following a municipal council meeting on March 2, the Town of Sutton decided to reorganize its first responders services. The first responders remain vital to the health of the community and will continue to operate, but after consulting with the ministry of health, the town decided to limit its services up to the PR-2 level, which covers responses to life threatening emergencies, rather than PR-3 in order to fill 100 per cent of calls. The reorganization also involves more collaboration with Sutton’s fire department, a new on-call response system, and equal compensation.
First responder training levels are divided into four categories PR-0, PR-1, PR-2, and PR-3 with PR-0, PR-1, and PR-2 covering responses to life-threatening emergencies and PR-3 covering more general services, like accompanying someone to the hospital.
“The position for the town is that when we discussed with the Ministry of Health in Quebec, they were concerned about a service that doesn’t offer 100 per cent of its service. It’s been a problem for many years that there are not enough first responders to respond to 100 per cent of the calls; it is around 80 per cent,” explained Mayor Robert Benoit. “What the Ministry says is that we prefer to have a service at 100 per cent rendered at PR-2 than 80 per cent at PR-3. When you look at the levels, you think that P3 is more than P2, but as a matter of fact the services rendered that really have a scare on their life is PR-0, PR-1, and PR-2.”
Benoit emphasized the major issue of not being able to fill in the on-call 12-hour shifts, especially with some first responders coming from outside the region.
“The problem was, when talking to the first responders, many had to come from Montreal, some of them some from North Shore, and they had to stay 12 hours a shift,” he said. “They lived in a small house that we rented. It had to be two people to be there 12 hours at a time and they had about one call per unit. It was a loss of time, consideration for family and work, and they have to come and they are not paid to come. The have a small amount to cover expenses.”
To help fill in these shifts and to ensure that calls are being responded, the town has decided to put a new on-call response system in place.
“We will have technology, an application on the telephone, and they will be able to go from their houses directly. They are not on call on a 12-hour basis, only on call once they are notified. We will have a morning, a day group, a night group, and weekend group,” explained Benoit. “We are optimizing the system. The vital services are all maintained. Somebody who has a heart attack, that’s PR-0 so that is offered, people with an allergy to nuts, this is maintained in all the levels and services. The only difference is that PR-3 is to accompany people that are sick, but to offer it at 80 per cent and not be able to respond to a heart attack is not okay.”
If a first responder is notified of a call, the application provides them with various response options in order for the team to know who is closest, who is able to respond to the call, who won’t be going, etc.
“Instead of having two people in downtown Sutton, we will have 25 people scattered all around the territory who will be able, in seconds, to go directly, offer the services and manage who will go,” added Benoit. “People can work from home still, they don’t have to wait two days in Sutton for a call, they will be able to work, live, be with their family and have friends, and if there’s a call there will be strength of numbers to respond.”
The reorganization also involves bringing the first responders under the direction of Don Mirault, director for public security for the town, and working in collaboration with the fire department with many firemen having PR-2 first responder training. The first responders will be compensated on the same level as the firemen, there will be paid training, an insurance policy, and other benefits and opportunities.
The first responders previously had their own coordinator and some of them sent an e-mail to Benoit to ask that that stays in place, but Benoit said that he wants teamwork in order to provide efficient services to the community, leading some to make the decision to quit.
“We are doing this right now with Lac-Brome. Right now, the firemen are working with Lac-Brome, there are two people managing the Lac-Brome firemen, so there is no reason why first responders and firemen can’t work together,” added Benoît. “This has lasted for the last 10 years. People have to work together and look at the services to the population. We also have to work with Sureté de Quebec; they have first responders abilities too. We are far away from hospitals so people have to work in a team approach.”
With some confusion surrounding how it would affect the services offered by the first responders and firemen in Brome Lake, Benoit cleared the air by saying that the reorganization is only for public security services offered by the Town of Sutton.
“On the contrary, we work with Brome Lake for the firemen and I hope to have talks with them to see how we can work more closely with them to work with the first responders. If anything, we see Lac-Brome as an example for us,” he added.
Some of the first responders also asked the mayor to maintain PR-3 level services and while the town hopes to bring services back up to the PR-3 level in the future, right now it is focused on maintaining what is most vital. “I want the most vital calls to be responded to at 100 per cent and I won’t accept anything lower than that,” emphasized Benoit.