Using fire fighters to respond to medical emergencies in Melbourne was first advanced by a former Chief Fire Officer of the Metropolitan Fire Brigades Board (MFB) more than 20 years ago. At that time, he identified the need for fire fighters to be involved in other aspects of emergency response and to broaden their knowledge and skills. A Public Bodies Review also later identified this. However the real push occurred in 1990 when the Victorian Kennett Government was determined to reduce the expenditure on the public purse and started a vigorous program of downsizing and outsourcing to both reduce public expenditure and increase productivity. The fire fighter first responder program was seen by the Government as a way to effectively utilise fire fighters that were already in the system as a way of reducing the publicly criticized public ambulance response times to emergencies.

The MFESB formally introduced the First Responder Program in 1994 after a long period of consultation, negotiation and planning with stakeholders. Initially the program operated within an agreed designated small area where the MFESB units would be dispatched at the same time as the Metropolitan Ambulance Service to telephone 000 reported life-threatening emergencies. The pilot program was later expanded and now covers the entire Melbourne Fire District using 1380 first responder trained fire fighters.

Overall, the program has demonstrated a reduction in response times to life threatening emergencies. However, there have been some aspects that require further investigation. There have been significant challenges with the introduction and continuation of the service due to inter service issues, turf protection, cultural acceptance and communication problems.

The paper will present an overview of the planning, training and operations of the fire fighter first responder program in Melbourne. It will also discuss the benefits and difficulties encountered.

Author Biography

David Shugg BEd, GradDipStudentWelfare, GradDipBusAdmin, MEdStds

David's working life started in 1966, when he joined the Victorian Civil Ambulance Service in Melbourne as a Cadet Ambulance Officer. Apart from serving in the Royal Australian Army Medical Corps as a National Serviceman, he worked for the next 26 years for the ambulance service in Melbourne.

In 1972, David was selected to be trained and work on the newly formed Coronary Care Ambulance. This unit developed into what is now known as the Mobile Intensive Care Ambulance. He worked in a number of other operational areas before specializing in ambulance officer training, spending a period as a lecturer and coordinator at the Ambulance Officers Training Centre, and later as the Training Officer for the Metropolitan Service. In recognition for his service, David was awarded a medal in the 1990 Australia Day Awards for his service to ambulance and the community.

David has tertiary training in business, education, educational administration, student welfare and holds a Masters Degree in Education. David was an active member of the former Institute of Ambulance Officers (Australia) holding executive positions within Victoria and on National Council. He was elevated to Fellow of the Institute of Ambulance Officers (Australia) and in 1991 was awarded a Life Membership.

In 1993, David joined St John Ambulance Australia Victoria, working in training development and management, and in 1999 when the Centre for Ambulance Paramedic Studies was established within the Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences at Monash University, he was appointed a Senior Lecturer and Head of the centre's Professional Development Unit. He also is a Director and Senior Consultant of the Australian Emergency Medical Services.