Firefighters in Northland are increasingly attending medical callouts as St John struggles to cope with growing demand.

With the festive season expected to put more strain on paramedics, the brigade has asked the public to deal with minor injuries themselves or wait to see their GPs.

For some volunteer fire stations such as Whangarei Heads, requests for medical assistance make up 60 per cent of their total callouts.

Heads fire chief Murray Jagger said it was a high percentage but the Fire Service and St John had a memorandum of understanding that they would help each other in times of need.


Firefighters normally provide moral support and apply basic first aid on medical callouts until ambulances arrive. Last week, the Ruakaka brigade attended to a woman with breathing difficulties at 2am while firefighters in Whangarei Heads went to a similar callout just after midnight.

Ruakaka Fire Brigade station officer Jeff D'Ath said firefighters did what they could to assist with their first aid knowledge and with equipment such as oxygen or a defibrillator.

"So far this year, we've had more medical callouts than other years. We don't have problem with it as we've got the manpower."

He said 25 per cent or between 20 and 25 callouts a year for the Ruakaka brigade were medical-related.

Asthma, shortness of breath and heart attack patients were among those attended to by firefighters.

"Sometimes we help St John carry a person from the house to a waiting ambulance as two female paramedics may not be able to lift a 130kg patient," Mr D'Ath said.

St John Northland operations manager Tony Devanney said his paramedics attended 17,000 callouts in the past year or on average 1400 per month.

That rose to 1600 a month from December to February. Weekly, there are 330 callouts in Northland but for the New Year week, that number spirals to 500.

"Our work has increased by 10 per cent a year for the past five years due to an increase in population and also because people are living longer but not necessarily healthier."

He said St John also received assistance from the rural firefighters and Primecare doctors.

"There's a huge peak in our workload over summer, generally around coastal areas so it takes longer for us to respond," Mr Devanney said.

St John has started using people with clinical knowledge to receive emergency calls in a bid to reduce hospital emergency department admissions by 80 per cent.