Court dismisses fire association complaint on ambulance service

Justice Robin Mohammed - File photo
Justice Robin Mohammed - File photo

A HIGH Court judge has dismissed a complaint by second-division firemen of an instruction by the chief fire officer (CFO) in 2018 to operate and man ambulances.

On February 29, Justice Robin Mohammed dismissed the association's complaint and lifted an injunction suspending the operation of the instruction, which had been in place since June 2018.

In their lawsuit, the Fire Services Association contended that the then-CFO, in February 2018, instructed firemen to operate ambulances.

However, they maintained they lacked training as EMTs to provide ambulance services.

Their attorney Hyacinth Griffith argued that the chief fire officer acted outside his jurisdiction and he did not have the power to instruct firemen to operate ambulances. At the same time, the association pointed to the Emergency Medical Services Act and the Medical Board Act, which established the prerequisites for operating ambulance services.

Citing legal principles, the FSA argued that the decision to instruct untrained officers to operate ambulances was irrational and unreasonable. They also pointed to one incident involving a road traffic accident, which led to the death of two people because firemen did not have the proper training.

In defence of the claim, the CFO, represented by Rishi Dass, SC, held that while the instruction in 2018 did contradict the EMS Act, that statute did not bind the State.

It was also argued that the fire service’s purpose involved “saving and protecting life or property, rendering humanitarian services, and using ambulances for emergencies, including, but not limited to, activities related to fires.”

The State said firemen met injured people daily, providing first-aid treatment and stabilisation for safe transportation to the hospital. Dass also submitted that the TTFS had a longstanding history of providing ambulance services since 1951, and firemen were first responders to emergencies, which required them to be equipped to handle diverse situations.

He said the TTFS was the only government body offering a public ambulance service and remained the sole public ambulance service domestically.

In fact, from October 1, 2014-September 30, 2017, the TTFS provided ambulance services 14,148 times and responded to 3,049 ambulance emergency calls, the judge was told.

The State further noted that if the court were to find that the TTFA was bound by the EMS Act, then the service all firemen would be deemed guilty of operating without a licence and firemen would no longer be able to remove injured people from emergency scenes.

In his ruling, Mohammed said while the Fire Services Act lacked specific provisions designating or delineating the CFO’s powers, the officeholder got his authority over second-division firemen through the delegation of powers from the Public Service Commission.

Mohammed also pointed to the duties of the TTFS set out by the act and noted that notwithstanding the comprehensive scope of authority given to the CFO, the legislation was silent on the specific modality for exercising these powers.

“The collective impact of these provisions indicates that the chief operated under a broad mandate consistent with the responsibilities of a chief for the efficient management of the fire service in Trinidad and Tobago…Notably, the legislature has deliberately refrained from explicitly delineating an exhaustive list of duties for the chief in this regard.”

“The mandate of the Trinidad and Tobago Fire Service revolves around the imperative to preserve and safeguard life and/or property, concurrently entailing the provision of humanitarian services in response to exigencies.

“The effective discharge of these duties necessitates, among other things, the utilisation of ambulances in emergency scenarios. In the routine course of its operations, the TTFS routinely encounters individuals with injuries requiring immediate first aid interventions and/or stabilisation, facilitating their secure transport to medical facilities for necessary treatment.

“This imperative extends beyond incidents exclusively linked to fires, encompassing all public emergencies to which the TTFS may be summoned. Such emergencies include, but are not limited to, medical responses, severe vehicular accidents, flooding, and water rescues.”

He also said firemen possessed emergency life-saving skills applicable to a spectrum of emergencies.

“TTFS ambulance drivers play a pivotal role in ensuring the smooth execution of emergency responses by expediting the swift and secure transportation of patients.”

He also said before the establishment of the Global Medical Response of Trinidad and Tobago (GMRTT) in 1985, the TTFS “exclusively” served as the primary public ambulance service domestically so it could not be said that the decision was “improper, irrational, illegal or unauthorised.”

He also it was improbable that the legislative drafters intended to displace the ambulance service provided by the TTFS.


"Court dismisses fire association complaint on ambulance service"

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