Pittsburgh Officials Say Paramedics Put Rescues in Jeopardy

Pittsburgh city officials said rescues could take much longer due to a union contract that prevents firefighters from performing rescues, reports The Pittsburgh Tribune.

Paramedics have handled rescues exclusively since 1977. A veteran paramedic said the quality of service to patients is at stake because firefighters aren't as well trained on vehicle, elevator and swift-water rescues.

The city is negotiating a contract with the union, which represents 156 paramedics working under the terms of a deal that expired in 2010. The main sticking point is that the city wants to transfer rescue operations to firefighters to improve response times and free paramedics to focus on medical emergencies.

“I see the system as very fragile," Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Michael Huss said. "The number of medical calls is increasing, and we want to address it by shifting some personnel without adding personnel."

Last week, paramedics voted to authorize a strike rather than accept a new contract with the change.

Last year, firefighters responded to emergencies within eight minutes of receiving a call and within four minutes most of the time, according to statistics supplied by the city.

Officials were unable to supply 2011 statistics for paramedics, because paramedics track calls differently.

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