Ambulance delays put firefighters on medical duty

The Rimbey fire chief fears volunteers will quit joining the department and members will drop out because of the increase in calls

The Rimbey fire chief fears volunteers will quit joining the department and members will drop out because of the increase in calls where they are being forced to make medical decisions before the ambulance arrives.

“It’s going to destroy the volunteer fire department,” said John Weisgerber. “It’s putting them in a situation for which they are not trained and for which they don’t have the proper equipment. And the province won’t be happy until they do this.”

In his report to council, Weisgerber said responding to medical calls is a growing concern.

“There has been a number of calls this year for fire to respond to medical calls because there is no EMS in town and we are not sure this a good thing because we are not all trained as EMS (personnel).”

Coun. Paul Payson, who is also a firefighter, said the fire department is often at an accident scene up to half an hour before the ambulance arrives.

“Our volunteer fire personnel are making decisions that they are not particularly trained for. They are hard decisions to make and they really have no idea if it is the right decision.”

On the flip side, Payson noted communication between the ambulance personnel and the fire department has always been strong.

“We have a strong history of dialogue between ambulance and fire. We share the dispatch and that’s the positive side to this.”

In an earlier interview, Jim Garland, executive director for EMS dispatch communication and deployment, said a borderless provincial system has been in place since the government took over ambulance services in 2009. He said under this system ambulances respond to wherever the need is greatest at any given time.

He said when ambulances in a community are out on a call, another ambulance may be called in, whether it is sitting in the next closest community or en route, depending on the geographical distance.

Associated Ambulance in Rimbey, Sylvan Lake and Red Deer are handled through a dispatch centre in Red Deer.

Weisgerber believes the system to be detrimental to small centres such as Rimbey and ambulances are being sent to cover calls in larger centres where the volume is higher.

Associated Ambulance took over the service in Rimbey in 2011. The service has two ambulances and four staff on duty 24/7. They can also have 200 casual staff from within their service area whom can be called on.

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