The NSW Ambulance Service has moved to assure Illawarra and Shoalhaven residents that there are enough paramedics to provide the best pre-hospital clinical care to patients.
Zone manager Paul Tonge said the contentious First Responder Program did not compromise safety and was "not about replacing experienced paramedics".
"It's about supplementing response times to get to patients as soon as possible, particularly in those cases where every minute is crucial - like a cardiac arrest, where only 3 per cent of people survive out of hospital," Mr Tonge said.
Illawarra paramedics are furious about the plan, warning they will "sit back and let the fire brigade do the lot".
They say they have lost faith in the Health Services Union (HSU) over the issue.
But Mr Tonge said the first priority of the Ambulance Service of NSW was to save lives.
And the First Responder Program could get "initial first aid to patients quicker prior to the arrival of paramedics in some instances".
"Given the spread of Fire and Rescue officers, Rural Fire Service volunteers and SES crews across NSW, it makes sense to use these resources to assist when they are not committed to fire suppression or other emergency activities and where they can make a difference to patient care by early intervention," Mr Tonge said.
There were 177 paramedics working in the Illawarra and Shoalhaven, and this was "above the numbers required to fully staff our current rosters in these regions", he said.
Yesterday the HSU confirmed that it had secured a meeting next week with NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner over the First Responders Program and "other issues of concern".
The union would report back to members on Friday, he said.
In a letter to members, HSU secretary Gerard Hayes said the time had come for ambulance paramedics to "take a strong stance against the chronic under-resourcing of the Ambulance Service".
"We are throwing the spotlight on the marginalisation and ongoing erosion of services to the NSW community," he said.
Delegates across the state needed to bring together all members and "take a position on the real issues of inappropriate staffing and service delivery".
An urgent statewide delegates' meeting would be held next week in Sydney, to develop the new ambulance division and decide on the way forward, followed by a special meeting of the general membership on Friday.
"Here, it is hoped, members will pave the way for a collective industrial response to the issues facing ambulance paramedics and consolidate the new ambulance division," Mr Hayes said.