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Province dumps emergencies on municipalities: councillor

Calling volunteer firefighters to handle medical emergencies amounts to downloading onto municipalities, says a Lacombe County councillor.

“To me, this is an Alberta Health Services issue,” said Coun. Brenda Knight on Thursday. “This is a downloading.”

Council was given a report on the increasingly common practice of dispatching volunteer firefighters to handle medical emergency calls when ambulances aren’t immediately available to respond.

Keith Boras, the county’s manager of environmental and protective services manager, said many volunteers have only standard first-aid skills and are put into situations for which they are not trained.

“It’s one of those situations where we’re starting to tax volunteers,” Boras said.

The issue is expected to be the hot topic at a zone meeting with Alberta Health Services on Feb. 8.

The City of Lacombe voted on Monday to limit the responsibilities of its volunteer firefighters after concerns were raised by Fire Chief Ed van Delden.

The province took over the city’s ambulance service last October.

“It would be irresponsible for the City of Lacombe to put its volunteer firefighters in a potentially traumatic, emotional and possibly liable position for a service they are not fully qualified to perform,” said Mayor Steve Christie in a Wednesday news release announcing the changes.

Firefighters will continue to provide initial first-aid and preliminary care at vehicle collisions and fire calls. They will also help paramedics with patient lifts from buildings and confined spaces as part of their rescue duties.

In information he provided to Lacombe County, van Delden said in the last 10 weeks volunteer firefighters responded to eight medical assist calls.

On five occasions, firefighters were called on to act as first responders to life-threatening medical emergencies, including stroke, cardiac arrest, severe respiratory distress and a drug overdose. On two occasions, firefighters were even asked to drive the ambulance.

“We’re starting to ask people to stick their necks out a little bit too far, I think,” said Coun. Cliff Soper, who had concerns about firefighter training levels and potential liability if something goes wrong.

County Reeve Ken Wigmore asked staff if these issues had arisen before the province took over ambulance service.

“The short answer is we did have adequate resources in place,” said Tim Timmons, county corporate services manager.

Since the takeover, there has been a “dramatic change,” said Timmons.

Part of the issue is that under the new ambulance dispatch system, a Lacombe ambulance returning from dropping off a patient in Edmonton could be sent to Leduc if it is the nearest available unit. That can leave a “void” locally, he said.

Council is holding off making any decision on how to handle the issue until after the meeting with Alberta Health Services.

A long-anticipated report on Alberta’s ambulance service was to be delivered on Thursday to Health Minister Fred Horne.

However, it will not be released to Albertans for a few weeks to give the minister time to review its findings. The report was initially to have been delivered last October.

The Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA), which represents more than 23,000 paramedical, technical, professional and general support employees in health care, was critical of the delays on Thursday.

pcowley@reddeeradvocate.com

 
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