Toronto's Ambulance Crisis: Are We Prepared for a Disaster?

Toronto's Ambulance Crisis: Are We Prepared for a Disaster?

Toronto's Ambulance Shortage Sparks Concern

Paramedic Union's Alarm Over Disaster Readiness

A startling revelation has been presented by the union representing Toronto's paramedics: the city might be woefully unprepared for a major disaster involving mass casualties due to an existing ambulance shortage.


Rising Call Volumes Expose Systemic Weakness

Mike Merriman, the chair for the paramedic services unit of CUPE Local 416, expressed concern over the city's capability to cope with the regular influx of calls, much less a calamitous event. Chronic underfunding and understaffing are cited as the primary culprits. The union boasts a membership of approximately 1,400 paramedics serving Toronto.

Merriman grimly outlined the city's predicament:

"In scenarios where surrounding services are summoned to manage our standard call volume, the response to a major disaster becomes unimaginable."


Code Red: A Dire Emergency Situation

Toronto's predicament was pushed into sharp focus when a code red was declared by the union earlier this week. Such a declaration indicates a complete lack of ambulances to attend to 911 calls, potentially leading to a growing backlog of emergencies.

The pressure escalated to the point where Toronto Paramedic Services sought assistance from neighbouring municipalities, Merriman revealed, adding:

"Daily challenges have become the norm. Yet, never before has the service had to appeal to neighbours, handling nearly 50 queued calls."


The Underlying Issues

Merriman believes that Toronto has hit a critical "tipping point." The public, and their representatives, must be made aware of the escalating challenges. Although many of the delayed calls weren't immediately life-threatening, the implications were dire for those waiting. A notably distressing incident involved an elderly woman awaiting assistance for hours post a fall.

A notable part of the problem, Merriman pointed out, was the growth in management at the cost of frontline workers. This shift has not only led to burnout but also to a decline in on-ground paramedic numbers.


City's Response: 'No Borders for Ambulances'

Dineen Robinson, speaking for the city, acknowledged the surge in emergency calls on Monday but presented a different perspective on the system's functionality.

Robinson stated:

"In high-demand periods, priority management is essential. Our focus always remains on the most critical cases first. The proximity of the ambulance, not municipal borders, determines our response."

Reiterating the city's commitment to public safety, Robinson mentioned that regional collaboration is common, with paramedics from nearby jurisdictions frequently assisting in Toronto and vice versa.


Challenges and Solutions

The city identifies "significant hospital pressures" during patient offloads and a return to pre-pandemic call volumes due to demographic shifts as contributing factors. Robinson urges the public to consider alternative solutions for minor medical issues to keep the emergency lines open for critical cases.



As Toronto grapples with its ambulance shortage amidst an aging and growing populace, proactive solutions and cross-municipal collaborations will be paramount. Being aware of alternative medical resources will be equally critical for the public.



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