This year, on May 1st, First Responders Day, we recognize workers who are often the first point of contact in this pandemic – and recommit to address the challenges first responders face.

CUPE Ontario and the CUPE Ambulance Committee of Ontario (CACO) extends their gratitude to the 5,500 paramedics and ambulance communication officers (ACOs) who respond to calls and often risk their own health and safety at work. 

During this crisis, many Ontarians are more likely to call for an ambulance than to visit an emergency room. They’ll first hear the voice of an ACO, who will calmly assure them that help is on the way. But the paramedic who arrives within minutes is only protected with full PPE if there is a disclosure of a covid-possible patient and if there is appropriate PPE available. There’s a real concern that there will be a shortage of the protective gear, especially N95 face masks.

Already, there are many paramedics in this province who have contracted the virus on the job.  There are also many paramedics who are in self-isolation.

We’re calling for legislative changes to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act so that if a worker contracts the virus, it’s assumed it was due to the nature of their work. This will streamline the application process for WSIB benefits for paramedics and other front-line workers

But even before this crisis, paramedics were increasingly facing challenges. CUPE produced a report for CACO which identified that call volume was increasing at a greater rate than the number of paramedics available, resulting in a growing number of “code zero” cases where there are no ambulances available to respond to emergency calls.

Paramedics are on the front-lines and are providing essential services to the community and deserve to be recognized. When the Ontario government announced a pay premium for a range of essential workers, paramedics were left out. But as a result of efforts from CUPE and CACO, the list of those who are eligible for pandemic pay was clarified to include paramedics.

On First Responders Day, and always, CUPE Ontario emphasizes the need to properly protect first responders during this pandemic. And we must also reverse the underfunding that has stretched resources and impacted the services Ontarians rely on even before this crisis.

Let’s work together to ensure a better system.

Fred Hahn, President of CUPE Ontario

Candance Rennick, Secretary-Treasurer of CUPE Ontario