Cities urged to match slower ambulance response

Fire department first responders 'unnecessarily' speeding to many calls with lights and siren

The province is sticking to its contentious decision to stop dispatching ambulances at high speed for less urgent medical calls and municipal fire department first responders are being urged to adopt the same approach.

Officials at B.C. Emergency Health Services have been on the defensive since the November implementation of their new Resource Allocation Plan, which slowed ambulances to posted speeds for dozens of types of routine calls with stable patients.

Ambulance response times have since averaged six minutes slower provincially and 10 minutes slower in the Lower Mainland for the downgraded calls, according to BCEHS, while enabling about one minute faster responses on urgent lights-and-siren emergencies.

Lower Mainland fire chiefs and city councils have denounced the changes as a service reduction and cite extreme delays for ambulances arriving at downgraded calls.

“We’re absolutely confident that we’re correct in the assignments that we’ve changed,” said Dr. William Dick, interim vice-president of medical programs at BCEHS. “We are getting to sicker patients faster.”

He and other officials at a Tuesday media briefing argued against sending municipal first responders at high speed to calls that aren’t medically urgent when those firefighters can only provide “comfort care” while waiting longer for ambulance paramedics to arrive under their revised protocol.

First responders are now “unnecessarily” rushing with lights and siren to 35 per cent of their calls, according to George Papadopoulos, quality and safety director at BCEHS.

“That has created a gap in response time that is being used in the media to say there’s downloading [of ambulance costs to cities],” he said. “If they implemented the changes that we’ve implemented for ourselves there would be no gap in the response times. And therefore no argument around downloading.”

Cities could save money if they adopted the same rules for their first responders, BCEHS says, and also reduce the risk of crashes between their responding fire trucks and the public.

There were 225 ambulance crashes with the public while lights and sirens were on in the last three years, and passing emergency vehicles are also blamed in other “wake collisions” where other vehicles collide trying to get out of the way.

Although BCEHS could impose the priority changes on first responder dispatch as well, it has said it will abide by the wishes of municipalities.

BCEHS board chair Wynne Powell said he thinks cities will agree to fall in line voluntarily and consultations with them are continuing.

So far 26 out of 160 municipalities consulted by BCEHS have requested more information or raised concerns. Surrey and Vancouver have submitted the most requests for reviews of ambulance call responses.

Powell called reported waits of one hour and more “outliers.”

An expert review of the changes is to report next week and BCEHS is pledging ongoing assessments in the months ahead.

NDP health critic Judy Darcy said patient safety has been put at risk, noting calls such as convulsions and electrocution by lightning are among the nearly 30 per cent of trips now downgraded to routine dispatch.

But BCEHS says such characterizations are inaccurate.

Electrocution and motor-vehicle accident calls are broken down to many sub-categories, some of which are dispatched as routine, and others with lights and siren, depending on the information dispatchers receive.

Powell also urged “complacent” motorists to pull over for ambulances now that lights-and-siren responses are reserved for more critical cases.

Just Posted

EDITORIAL: Post-grad years are your time

Editor Grace Kennedy shares a few words for this year’s high school grads

PHOTOS: Sasquatch Days about ‘being proud of being Sts’ailes’

The joint event between Harrison and Sts’ailes returned to the village for its eighth year

‘This was my baby’: Music teacher to retire after 29 years at Kent Elementary

Brenda Di Rezze will be saying goodbye to her music room at the end of this school year

LETTER: Harrison needs trees, not a new parking lot

Harrison resident Janne Perrin reminds council that trees are important too

UPDATE: Two young Chilliwack men facing at least five years jail for armed robbery

Darius Commodore and Jaimal Mclaren face 13 charges in Mission/Agassiz incident involving police dog

VIDEO: Reading splashes into Agassiz’s Ferny Coombe Pool

The Agassiz Library held its annual Reading in the Pool event Friday, June 14

Parents of BC murder victim want personal belongings returned

Lisa Dudley’s parents, Rosemarie and Mark Surakka, were at the Mission RCMP detachment Sunday

B.C. VIEWS: When farmland protection doesn’t protect farmers

Secondary residences aren’t mansions, families tell Lana Popham

Bombers down B.C. Lions 33-23 in season opener

Former Lion Andrew Harris leads Winnipeg with 148 rushing yards

Northern B.C. family remembers murdered Indigenous woman with memorial walk

Still no closure for Ramona Wilson’s family 25 years later

Pride flag taken down by Township of Langley

Woman said she was told it was removed from her front yard because of a complaint

B.C. university to offer mentorship program for former youth in care

Students using the provincial tuition waiver program will soon be able to form a community at KPU

Cyclists competing in one of the toughest bike races on the planet pass through Fernie

Divide riders looking strong as they finish first leg of 4160 km race

You might not know these B.C. records are public

Hired a lawyer to file a civil claim? Those are published online

Most Read