PARAMEDICS from the Northern Rivers are threatening to walk off the job for the first time ever on Friday week in a state-wide strike protesting budget cuts and regional changes they say will put lives at risk.
Health Services Union secretary Gerard Hayes said paramedics were concerned the expansion of the First Responder program is putting lives at risk. In the program, trained firefighters respond to medical emergencies.
Mr Hayes, a former paramedic, said simmering anger among paramedics escalated last week following the announcement about expanding the First Responder program.
He said with the program already established at Alstonville, the Northern Rivers could expect more First Responder-trained firefighters in the region.
"The state needs an extra 700 paramedics," he said.
"The community is being exposed to an unacceptable level of risk.
"Only a clinically-trained paramedic can arrive at an emergency with the tools and knowledge necessary to keep a suffering patient alive."
Mr Hayes said a location and time for a rally on February 15 by paramedics in the Northern Rivers had not been decided yet.
Health Minister Jillian Skinner condemned the threat of strike action, saying the First Responder program had been in operation since 2005, covering 48 regional locations including Alstonville.
"I want to assure the community that the closest NSW ambulance paramedic will always be dispatched immediately in an emergency," she said.
"The program aims to use all available resources to treat patients who need urgent medical care.
"That is why, on occasion, Fire and Rescue personnel will be tasked to an emergency in addition to paramedics - not instead of."