Ambulance arrival times worry Lower Mainland firefighters
Vancouver’s fire chief says recent changes mean his members have to hold the scene for lengthy periods of time while crews wait for ambulances to arrive. (CARMINE MARINELLI/ 24 HOURS)
"I have spoken with the majority of fire services around us and they’re also very, very frustrated. They’re trying to find out how to make sense of this." — John McKearney, Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services
Lower Mainland firefighters are holding wounds together while enduring unacceptable ambulance wait times for cases that emergency medical responders aren’t taking seriously, Vancouver’s fire chief said Tuesday.
Chief John McKearney said firefighters already on scene have been waiting an average of 21 minutes longer before ambulances arrive, ever since service changes were implemented in October 2013.
The calls include falls, breathing problems, traffic accidents, trauma, assaults — McKearney believes about 5-10% of all ambulance calls are now being inaccurately categorized as “routine” rather than emergencies.
“We’re probably looking somewhere in the neighbourhood of at least 100 of those events,” he said.
McKearney provided five examples.
A senior with a large cut waited 49 minutes for paramedics after fire services arrived. A 39-year-old with a possible skull and jaw fracture waited 21 minutes after fire services arrived. A man with abdominal bleeding waited 27 minutes. A vomiting teen waited 50 minutes. A man who fell down two flights of stairs and got a head wound waited 40 minutes.
“Our Fire and Rescue Services only have certain certification levels … they don’t have some of the training in order to do much beyond stabilization and do some initial triage,” Coun. Kerry Jang said.
He said there’s even been discussion of certifying firefighters to do more — but that requires provincial licensing, and Jang is worried about firefighters taking over paramedic duties.
BC Emergency Health Services vice-president Dr. William Dick said ambulances have only taken about 90 seconds longer to arrive than before for “routine” calls in Vancouver in March.
Priority calls, he said, have been 30 seconds faster.
“Those are extreme outlier cases,” Dick said. “I can absolutely say in 100% certainty there was no change in medical outcome for those five cases.”
He added the changes could result in 800,000 fewer “lights-and-siren” responses each year for ambulances, which could mean fewer traffic accidents.
—with files from Ben Bulmer