Wagga is one of the worst places in the world for asthmatics, according to Riverina paramedic Gary Wilson.
But if Wagga was hit with the same thunderstorm asthma crisis as Melbourne in 2016, Mr Wilson said it would be catastrophic.
The Australian Paramedic Association vice-secretary shared his fears amid a fresh push for more full-time paramedics across the Riverina.
It comes after police from the Local Area Command were dispatched to triple-zero call, near Ashmont on Wednesday afternoon, because no paramedics were available.
According to officers, an elderly lady had fallen over.
Mr Wilson said police and firefighters were traditionally called to assist NSW Ambulance as first responders when necessary, but added it was not ideal and was happening too often.
“If your house is on fire, you want a firefighter,” Mr Wilson said. “If a stranger is breaking in to your home, you want police. If you’re hurt and need medical attention, you want an ambulance."
The Gundagai resident said if the city remained understaffed until a disaster like thunderstorm asthma struck, residents could die. But Mr Wilson said he feared it would take a crisis to “get the message across”.
He said for years the union’s call for greater paramedic numbers had “fallen on deaf ears”.
It follows Daily Advertiser reports the region’s outer-lying towns were often without an ambulance, while paramedics were assisting with Wagga’s workload.
Mr Wilson said additional staff numbers in recent years had improved rostering and paramedic safety, but added emergency coverage in rural areas remained an issue.
“Some calls aren’t getting and ambulance and some calls are being delayed,” he said. “People are hesitant to complain, because they like paramedics, but we need them to complain.”
Despite the union’s concern, NSW Ambulance said Murrumbidgee Zone paramedics had achieved a median 6.4-minute response time to priority cases, between January and March this year.
In a statement, it said the Bureau of Health Information revealed these response times were “well below 10-minute benchmark.”
The service also announced an injection of 700 paramedics across four years in 2017, with 200 earmarked within first twelve months.
But according to the APA, none of the first 200 staff were bound for the Riverina and questions were raised about the impact of the upcoming election on the allocation.
“The APA are also concerned current staff are not trained in a timely manner as it is,” Mr Wilson – the APA delegate – said. “How are they going to train 200, before the end of the year?”