Ambulance officials say firefighters can still attend calls
The BC Emergency Health Services branch has not yet made a decision on whether it would continue notifying fire departments of non-emergency calls, saying it’ll let individual cities decide for themselves. (CARMINE MARINELLI/ 24 HOURS FILE PHOTO)
Health officials reassured cities Tuesday that they retain the ability to send firefighters on “lights-and-sirens” calls that ambulance dispatchers see as only routine.
Wynne Powell, chairman of the BC Emergency Health Services branch, said ambulance dispatch calls are still being sent to municipal fire departments.
According to the branch, 35% of calls firefighters are rushing to ahead of paramedics were unnecessary, and equate to “comfort care” — treatment a patient would appreciate but doesn’t actually need.
The BCEHS has yet to make a final decision on whether “first responders” such as firefighters should continue to be notified of these incidents going forward.
Powell said cities would get to make decisions on whether they would like to attend non-emergency calls with their fire departments even after BCEHS makes a decision.
BCEHS, the branch that oversees ambulances, made changes to how paramedics are dispatched in October 2013 that reorganized which types of calls are considered priority.
The branch said it has improved arrival times for emergency calls by about a minute provincewide with a similar number in the Lower Mainland. Routine calls are now delayed by six minutes provincewide and up to 11 minutes locally.
Part of the changes address the high number of ambulance collisions during lights-and-sirens calls.
“Over a four-year period there’s been 225 collisions of ambulance with the public,” Powell said.
“The public … in many cases have been injured, the ambulance crew gets injured and, of course, ambulances are taken out of service and can’t do the actual call they’re trying to get to.”
That’s more than once a week. According to the BCEHS, they’ve yet to see lower numbers of collisions. There were eight ambulance collisions from November to January, said BCEHS director of patient safety George Papadopoulos — still about one a week.
He cautioned the data is early, and officials are expected to do a review of the changes in early June.