THE Northern Rivers could soon see more firefighters with medical training attending to patients if a plan by the NSW Government becomes legislation.
Under the plan, firefighters, RFS Volunteers or SES workers would be trained in first aid resuscitation to assist paramedics in emergencies.
NSW Ambulance Superintendent Susan Webster said the Community First Responder Plan was designed to complement ambulance services, not replace them.
She said Community First Responders, including 14 people from the Alstonville Fire Brigade, were trained by Ambulance NSW in resuscitation and given resources including satellite phones and defibrillators.
"The people are trained to give paramedics a hand in treating a patient while the ambulance is responding," she said.
Opposition Leader John Robertson slammed the proposal, labelling it cost cutting madness.
"The O'Farrell Government's plan to replace qualified paramedics with firefighters is all about cost cutting and will put patient care at risk," he said.
"You can hardly count firefighters in a fire truck as being equal to paramedics in a fully equipped ambulance in a medical emergency."
Shadow Health Minister Dr Andrew McDonald echoed Mr Robertson's comments.
"While firefighters are occasionally called out to medical emergencies when ambulances are busy elsewhere, using firefighters as first responders equal to paramedics is just plain dangerous," he said.
Acting Health Minister Kevin Humphries said the First Responder program aimed to enhance patient care in an emergency and not replace paramedics.
"The closest paramedic will always be dispatched immediately in an emergency," he said.
"Under the First Responder program, the tasking of fire and rescue personnel is in addition to paramedics - not instead of.
"They are tasked if they can get to the scene quicker and provide early intervention until the paramedics arrive.
"Those responders have been trained by NSW Ambulance Clinical Educators in advanced first aid, such as the use of a defibrillator."