| Feb 24, 2005

Feature artcle, February 24, 2005

Feature article February 24, 2005

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Paramedics unimpressed with County request to amend provincial regulation

by Jeff Green

County of Frontenac Officials were surprised when the Ministry of Labour ruled they must provide a hour break for paramedics after every five hours of continuous work. Although the County has complied with the ruling, it has also petitioned the Province of Ontario, through the Ministry of Labour, to amend the pertinent regulation to include an exemption for paramedics in the employment of municipalities across the Province of Ontario.

This decision has not gone over well with the Kingston paramedics working for the County.

Paramedic Spero Betas told the News that the meal break is a matter of heath and safety.

Were so busy in Kingston that we can go from call to call for our entire 12-hour shift with no chance to eat at all. At a certain point it becomes unsafe to be operating a vehicle or dealing with patient emergencies, he said.


The County responded to the Ministry of Labour ruling by putting extra ambulances on to cover for breaks.

At least now, we know that no matter how busy we are, and how stressed we become, we will have a meal break after five hours. It makes a big difference, Betas added.

Terry Baker, who was a union representative for the Paramedics with the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) before the ambulance service was taken over by the County last year, and who will be involved in negotiating towards a first contract between OPSEU and the County this Spring, said that meal breaks were mentioned every time we met with the Hotel Dieu [the previous operator] and also every time weve met with the County. Finally one of he paramedics complained to the Labour Board. This should not have been a surprise for the County.

Both Begas and Baker said that the issue came to a head in Kingston because it is an extremely busy ambulance service, which has been under-funded for many years.

I also work part time for both the Lennox and Addington ambulance and the Leeds and Grenville ambulance and neither of them are as over extended as Kingston is. We cant handle the call volume, said Begas. If the County is worried about meal breaks, they should put more ambulances on the road. Its as simple as that. The County shouldnt be wasting their money on lawyers, and should realise they have to provide meal breaks. The morale of the paramedics in Kingston is really low.

Terry Baker said the biggest problem we have right now is we dont have enough vehicles on nights, and we definitely dont have enough vehicles on weekends. Baker also said that the general public is not aware of the work paramedics do.

In the rural reaches of Frontenac County, paramedics with the Parham Ambulance Service are not facing increasing call volumes as their urban counterparts are, but the meal break ruling applies to them as well.

As reported in The News last week, service to all of the County is provided from Justus Drive in Kingston during Parham meal breaks.

That wont change any time soon, although Terry Baker did say other arrangements could be made as part of contract negotiations.

Dave Gemmill, the former owner of the Parham ambulance and now an ambulance manager with the County, said the only way around the problem at Parham is to put more rigs on the road. Im confident thats what County Council will do.

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