A fulltime ambulance paramedic for Ambulance Victoria who is also a volunteer CFA firefighter says that:

Over the last few months I have had 3 occasions where I have arrived on the scene of very serious vehicle accidents as a member of the CFA and I have been asked by attending Ambulance crews to assist due to lack of ambulances early in the response and multiple/very unwell patients.

I would like to know if I attend the scene as a CFA volunteer and then need or asked to use my clinical skills as an off duty Paramedic, are there any problems legally if I do so and do I open up myself to possible litigation?

My understanding is that I can use my skills as long as I don’t step outside of my training/scope, it is for the benefit of the patient and it is what a reasonable paramedic would do in the situation. I have also heard of an example of other CFA members facing discipline because they “changed helmets” and where not first aid accredited. This member was a MICA paramedic/Div 1 nurse.

I am curious as I have also been told not to blur the lines of the CFA role but don’t want to risk life or negative outcomes by standing back when I have the skills and knowledge to assist in these situations

I have answered similar questions before.  See:

The difference between this scenario and the one for the NSW Paramedic, was in the NSW case I was asked to assume that ambulance was not in attendance and the paramedic was limited to whatever equipment is on the fire appliance.  In the scenario given above, the paramedic/firefighter is asked to assist by fellow paramedics so no doubt there is more extensive equipment on the ambulance including, perhaps, scheduled drugs.

The Country Fire Authority is established ‘For the more effective control of the prevention and suppression of fires in the country area of Victoria …’ (Country Fire Authority Act 1958 (Vic) s 6).   Even so, s 20A says:

… any group of brigades or any brigade … may … in response to a call for assistance, attend and carry out any function in relation to the provision of assistance to any person or the protection of any property involved in any accident or emergency not connected with the suppression or prevention of fire and the provisions of this Act shall with such adaptations and variations as are necessary apply to and in relation thereto to the same extent as in the case of the prevention and suppression of fire or the protection of  life  and property in the case of fire.

That’s a rather complex way of saying when asked, a CFA brigade can attend at any emergency or accident and all the powers given to the CFA officers to allow them to exercise their firefighting duties may, as necessary, be relied upon to all ow the CFA to protect life and property.

I can only imagine that if the CFA were at the scene of a fire and Ambulance Victoria paramedics asked for assistance in treating an injured person, CFA firefighters would assist if they could, and the CFA would expect them to do so.   The difference here is that the CFA firefighter is also a paramedic.   When he or she begins to treat a person they can’t deny their knowledge or skills and more importantly they may have access to drugs and other equipment and use it.  In that case they are really acting as a paramedic not as a CFA volunteer.  What makes the difference, in my mind, is the request from other paramedics for assistance and that there is an ambulance on scene so that the paramedic can incorporate into their activities.

The situation can be compared to what might happen if an off duty paramedic approached paramedics at a multi-casualty event and offered to assist.  I can’t imagine Ambulance Victoria doesn’t want its staff to do that.  By stepping up the reality is that the paramedic is an Ambulance Victoria paramedic and has become part of the Ambulance Victoria response to the event.    Expecting a paramedic to do anything other than exercise their skills and training as a paramedic would not be acting in the best interests of the patient and would be remiss.  I think that is quite different from the firefighter/paramedic providing care before the ambulance service gets there.  In that case they are providing care as a firefighter even if whatever care they can provide may be more than other firefighters.

Let me turn to the questions:

I would like to know if I attend the scene as a CFA volunteer and then need or asked to use my clinical skills as an off duty Paramedic, are there any problems legally if I do so and do I open up myself to possible litigation?

I can’t see it.  Either your part of Ambulance Victoria or the CFA.   Certainly if you provide competent care it doesn’t matter.   If your conduct is negligent, then you will not be the defendant as no-one wants to sue someone who can’t pay. Ambulance Victoria is responsible for the care of the patient and if the on duty paramedics asks a CFA volunteer to assist and they injure their patient, it will still be the case that the patient received sub-standard care from Ambulance Victoria.  So either way, whether your seen as a CFA volunteer or an ambulance paramedic, any liability will fall to Ambulance Victoria.

My understanding is that I can use my skills as long as I don’t step outside of my training/scope, it is for the benefit of the patient and it is what a reasonable paramedic would do in the situation.

That is indeed correct and applies whether you’re on duty with the CFA or just walking down the street.

I have also heard of an example of other CFA members facing discipline because they “changed helmets” and where not first aid accredited. This member was a MICA paramedic/Div 1 nurse.

I can understand why a CFA member may face discipline or criticism ‘because they “changed helmets”’ if that took them away from vital firefighting duties and exposed others to risk, but not because they were not ‘first aid accredited’ that is simply a failure to recognise prior learning and an administrative issue for the CFA.

I am curious as I have also been told not to blur the lines of the CFA role but don’t want to risk life or negative outcomes by standing back when I have the skills and knowledge to assist in these situations

Anyone who says do not ‘blur the lines’ is looking to protect the CFA and the objective should be to help the person in need.  Surely both CFA and Ambulance Victoria want to save lives rather than worry about potential legal liability.  Remember also that cases of responders, or the emergency services getting sued in the circumstances described are unheard of.

Conclusion

Providing assisting the patient doesn’t compromise the CFA response then there are no legal issues in assisting the paramedics.  That is what an ‘all hazards, all agency’ response must require.