Cut Them All: Police, Fire, EMS
May 1st, 2013 | C. Wang
There are three municipal services that are seen by many as untouchable when talk turns to cuts. Unlike many other public services, these three untouchables are viewed through the lense of emotionalism and exciting melodrama. When cuts are floated, the arguments quickly turn to “What if YOUR family home was on FIRE?!” or “What if a SERIAL KILLER breaks into YOUR HOUSE?!” or “What if YOU got SHOT and had no way to get to a HOSPITAL?!
Let’s calm down. Look at how and why these three services should be cut.
Crime rates in Canada have never been lower in recorded history. Is this due to a cop on every corner? No.
It’s most likely due to simple demographics. The median age of a Canadian is 40. In 1971 it was 26. Who’s more likely to get huff meth and break into your car? A 40 year old or a 26 year old? Who’s more likely to get drunk and riot after a hockey game? A 40 year old or a 26 year old? Who’s more likely to, well, you get the picture.
Canada is also far richer than it was in 1971. Poverty related crimes have dropped because, frankly, Canada doesn’t have a lot of poor people around anymore to turn to crime in the first place. We are rich and we are old, and rich old people aren’t roaming the streets looking for some no-good to get up to.
The main problem with Canada’s legal system is the lack of victim rights. An the liberal, soft-on-crime approach has led to a lack of justice when serious crimes actually are committed. This is a fault of the courts, not the police. As far as actual policing goes, there are more than enough well paid cops on the streets, so long as we keep witnessing time wasting predatory examples like this.
Firefighters have had about 200 years of fantastic public relations. The brand of the hero firefighter is ubiquitous to the point of cliche, but in the 21st century is it really necessary to pay firefighters a six-figure salary for something that isn’t really as dangerous or as needed as it used to be?
First of all, building materials are far superior to what we used to have available. Fire proof and fire resistant materials are used commonly in the building of new homes. Composites, plastics and treated wood have greatly reduced the explosive spread of fires that used to be common. Now when homes start on fire, an alarm routinely goes off and the family waits outside for a response from the fire department. The department shows up and puts out the fire while it’s still contained in a couple of rooms. The smoke and water tend to cause more damage than whatever was left on the stove.
Secondly, when people die in a fire, it’s usually due to smoke inhalation. If someone spots smoke and calls 9-1-1, and the people inside haven’t gotten out already on their own, they’ll probably be dead before the fire trucks even arrive. Sounds harsh, but when’s the last time you heard about a firefighter pulling someone from a burning building and saving their lives just in the nick of time?
Thirdly, even when the big fires do break out, firefighters pretty much just douse it from a distance. It’s not worth risking a firefighter’s life in order to scrounge around for someone most likely dead inside anyway.
We’ll always need firefighting services, but in 2013 it is time to consider a scaling back.
EMERGENCY MEDICAL SERVICES
EMS has come a long way in the past 30 years, but it is beginning to suffer from education escalation. This escalation is a noble pursuit to professionalize the service to a higher standard and provide ever increasing health care needs to the population at large. The early low-end branding of ambulance driving has stuck in the popular culture even though the skill sets and demands on medics is far beyond what was originally proposed.
The more you professionalize the service the more expensive it will become. Advanced care paramedics can easily make six-figures in Canada. Their skill set includes dozens of medications, intubation, 12-lead skills, even suturing and cricothyrotomy. This leads to very high levels of care for patients, but what about the cost to taxpayers?
The dirty secret of EMS is that despite the increase in provider quality, the two best assets a paramedic has is a stretcher and an ambulance. Getting the patient to definitive care in the form of a hospital, is still the best solution for anyone who is sick or injured. In an urban situation, an ambulance can usually get to a hospital within ten minutes, using lights and sirens. With this in mind, do we really need a paramedic to have crazy high-level skills and the paychecks to go with them? Due to the rarity of implementing these high-level interventions, one of the biggest risks for paramedics is skill degradation. Sometimes paramedics will go overboard with treatment on patients, just for the practice! Realistically, the best thing a paramedic can do, is determine the severity of a patient’s condition and know when to drive really, really fast to the hospital as a result.
Much money could be saved by hiring more primary care paramedics and partnering them with first responders /drivers. In other words you could get two people for the price of one and afford to have more ambulances on the streets.
All public services should be held to account, and efficiencies and continuous quality improvement should be implemented regularly. The big three first responder services should not get a free pass simply because they are exciting and emotionally charged. “If it saves one child,” is not a budgetary argument that should be tabled. The next time a union boss or politician or bureaucrat in charge of these services delves into emotionalism in pursuit of bigger and bigger budgets -- call them on it.