Toronto paramedic union issues ‘code red’ after it says no ambulances available in the city

The union representing Toronto paramedics issued a ‘code red alert’ earlier this week after it said there were no ambulances in the city to respond to calls.

“Yesterday, Toronto Paramedic Services requested emergency aid from more well-prepared and staffed bordering municipalities,” TCEU Local 416 said in a post to X, formerly Twitter, announcing the alert on Tuesday.

Mike Merriman, Unit Chair of the union, told CTV News Toronto in a statement that Toronto had “no units” available to respond to a large number of calls late afternoon on Monday, some of which were eight-hours old.

“While not high acuity or life threatening calls, in one instance, an 80 year old woman, who fell and fractured her arm, lay on the ground for hours waiting on a unit. This should be considered unacceptable to the taxpayers of Toronto,” Merriman said in a statement.

Merriman also confirmed that York Regional Paramedic Services were called in to help.

In a statement issued to CP24, Toronto Paramedic Services acknowledged that it experienced “higher than normal” emergency call volumes on Monday, but did not confirm or deny the union’s claim.

“As with other paramedic services across Ontario and Canada, we do run into situations when ambulance availability is low,” a spokesperson for the city’s paramedic services said in an email.

“During busier periods like yesterday, paramedics are routinely diverted from lower priority calls to higher priority calls. Higher priority calls will always be responded to first.”

Toronto Paramedic Services also told CP24 during a phone call that the term ‘code red’ is unique to the union and not tracked.

According to the latest available data, the union said Toronto Paramedic Services faced ‘code red’ situations 1,139 times in 2021.

Toronto Paramedic Services declined an interview request.

Speaking at Queen’s Park on Wednesday, interim Ontario Liberal Leader John Fraser said that while ambulance shortages across the province are not uncommon, the issue is “particularly acute right now.”

“This is the first time I’ve heard of it happening in Toronto. It is concerning because if you have an urgent call and there’s not somebody available, that’s a bad thing,” he said.

Fraser said more human resources and improvements to patient off-loading at hospitals are needed to address the problem.

“So it’s more than just more [people]. It’s actually managing the workload in a better way.”

To that end, Toronto Paramedic Services said patient off-loading is the “most significant challenge negatively impacting” ambulance availability in the city and said it was working with its hospital partners to streamline the process.


Dr. Raghu Venugopal, an emergency room physician in Toronto, spoke to CP24 about the ‘code red’ alert and said the shortage of ambulances is a ripple effect felt from the lack of hospital capacity.

“We don’t have the capacity and it’s tragic,” Venugopal said Wednesday.

“What happens if you see patients on paramedic stretchers [in the ER] and the patients stay on paramedic stretchers and those paramedic crews get stuck in the ER and they can’t attend [emergency] calls.”

Venugopal said that while he still supports Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s 2018 campaign to end “hallway healthcare,” he’s seen no improvement in the three Toronto hospitals he works at. In fact, he says, things have gotten worse.

“We do see innovative projects done by hospitals….we do see the province funding nurses to specifically help with offloaded patients. But the reality is it is not enough.”