Two weeks after Red Deer lost local ambulance dispatching, some “inconsistencies” are being noticed in the new system.
“Our greatest challenge, right now, is obtaining information about the approximate time ambulances will be arriving on scene,” said Fire Chief Ken McMullen on Tuesday.
ETAs, or estimated times of arrival, are useful to know when fire-medics arrive at a medical emergency first because “they would need to do things differently, depending on whether an ambulance was five minutes away or 25 minutes,” said McMullen.
If they know an ambulance is going to be delayed, fire-medics might start a sick patient on medication, do intubation to assist with breathing, or perform some other medical intervention that wouldn’t be necessary if an ambulance crew was going to arrive in a few minutes, he explained.
There are “inconsistencies” in getting ETAs now, said McMullen. This hadn’t been a problem when Red Deer’s fire and ambulance dispatchers were working out of the same space.
Since central Alberta’s 911-medical calls have been dispatched out of Calgary or Edmonton since Jan. 12, McMullen said this kind of data is not always being provided to Red Deer’s fire-medics.
The good news is Calgary-based ambulance dispatchers have been alerting Red Deer’s fire-medics about some medical emergencies when local ambulances are tied up. But McMullen has no way of knowing whether they are being alerted about all cases they could be assisting at before an ambulances arrives.
“We don’t know if it’s happening for every call… We used to have this kind of information in-house. Now it’s hard to know whether we are missing calls.”
Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer’s had wanted local dispatchers to be allowed to stay on the line after 911-calls are transferred to AHS dispatching centres, but this request was not granted.
On Tuesday, Calgary’s ambulance dispatching service was also transferred to the AHS centres.
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi was not happy about it, said McMullen, who noted Veer and other Red Deer officials are continuing to communicate with Nenshi and the leaders of similarly affected Lethbridge and the Municipal District of Wood Buffalo. “We are still advocating — and we will continue to.”
McMullen remains convinced that the integrated fire-ambulance dispatch system that Red Deer had was superior to the new separated dispatch systems favoured by Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro.
“It was the best service and I have no doubt we will get it back again,” he added — but hopefully lives won’t be lost in the interim.