Red Deer fire chief and emergency services manager Ken McMullen said options on ambulance dispatching are limited by the province’s unwillingness to discuss municipal concerns. (Advocate file photo)

Red Deer fire chief and emergency services manager Ken McMullen said options on ambulance dispatching are limited by the province’s unwillingness to discuss municipal concerns. (Advocate file photo)

Kenney restates support for centralized dispatch while Red Deer considers options

‘It’s a pretty one-sided argument,’ says fire chief

Options are narrowing for the City of Red Deer’s efforts to bring back local ambulance dispatch.

Red Deer’s emergency services manager Ken McMullen said defying the province and going the route of the Municipal District of Wood Buffalo — which has vowed to bring back its local ambulance dispatch service — would be expensive and a logistical challenge.

“We’re looking at all options… we’re going to see whatever else is available,” he added.

But there’s a basic problem: The province has stopped talking to the City of Red Deer about this issue — “so it’s a pretty one-sided argument,” McMullen said.

The province is continuing to ignore the city’s offer to pay extra to keep local ambulance dispatch service.

In fact, on Thursday Premier Jason Kenney was asked about centralized ambulance service during a press conference and he responded that the system has been working fine and his government is committed to it.

“The provincial central dispatch has worked extremely well, for well over 95 per cent of the province’s municipalities. This is a natural step,” Kenney said.

“We’re absolutely committed to this change. We think it’s the best thing in terms of service, as well as efficiency.”

However, Red Deer, Lethbridge, Calgary and the Municipal District of Wood Buffalo remain committed to the local ambulance dispatch they lost when local 911- medical calls were transferred last month to a centralized Alberta Health Services dispatching centres in Calgary and Edmonton.


-Red Deer loses local ambulance dispatch

-Red Deer eyes Wood Buffalo’s example

The four communities want to bring back a local ambulance dispatch system that’s more integrated with local fire dispatch saying it works best since they have cross-trained fire-medics.

On Tuesday night, Wood Buffalo Mayor Don Scott and the rest of council in the northern municipal district voted to defy AHS and the province and stop transferring 911 calls to the provincial dispatch centre.

“There are circumstances when acts of defiance and resistance, I believe are absolutely necessary,” Scott stated. “When decisions are made by a level of government that put the health of our residents at risk in the region, then that’s one of them.”

Scott had complained of ambulances being misdirected by dispatchers who are unfamiliar with his region.

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer revealed the same problems are happening in central Alberta — including a local ambulance being dispatched to downtown Red Deer instead of Sundre.

McMullen explained that this can happen when a dispatcher hears a general location, such as “near the Red Deer River” and makes the wrong assumption.

“They drop a (computer) pin onto a map to start an ambulance” towards a call, he explained.

Fortunately this error was discovered in time to dispatch another ambulance that was closer to Sundre, he added. But McMullen worries about the possibility of future mistakes leading to patient deaths.

Taking back municipal control of ambulance dispatch, as Wood Buffalo is doing, “is certainly not going to be easy” since Alberta Health Services has already removed all technical infrastructure, including computer dispatching equipment and radios, from Red Deer, he explained.

McMullen said the city would have to purchase all of this equipment and the dedicated software, “and it’s not going to be cheap.”

The new radios must be set to the Alberta Health Services dispatching channel to get the 911-calls, but McMullen said the government could always reset the channel, or block municipalities out.

And besides all of this effort, the city would only have control of dispatching the five ambulances now available in Red Deer, said McMullen. He believes it would be hard to co-ordinate with other central Alberta ambulance services on calls.

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