Council sounds alarm on ambulance dispatch

The City of Red Deer has formally sounded the alarm, urging the province to reverse plans to consolidate ambulance dispatch service.

The City of Red Deer has formally sounded the alarm, urging the province to reverse plans to consolidate ambulance dispatch service.

The newly-elected council wasted no time in voicing its concern over the change that would see the city’s ambulance dispatch service moved to Calgary.

Red Deer has an integrated service that allows for dispatch of ambulances and fire rescue at the same time.

A transfer to Calgary would seemingly complicate the process by bouncing calls between Calgary and Red Deer.

Since the province made the announcement last spring, the city has been fighting to retain its service within a regional dispatch model.

On Monday, council turned up the pressure by unanimously passing a motion to formalize its position.

Council raised concerns about the impacts and risks for Red Deerians and citizens in surrounding communities that depend on the integrated service.

Each year the service provides ambulance and fire service to an estimated 300,000 residents outside of Red Deer. The city provides fire dispatch to 70 municipalities and ambulance dispatch to eight municipalities.

Councillors pointed out the existing model utilizes local knowledge and expertise.

“I just can’t imagine bouncing calls here and there makes any good sense for our citizens,” said rookie Coun. Tanya Handley. “That one touch, one person approach makes very good sense.”

Handley said she talked to a firefighter recently who stressed the importance of the dispatchers knowing local landmarks. She pointed to a child in distress who knows its school and other facilities.

“That just takes us back to our most vulnerable citizens,” she said. “It’s so imperative in my opinion that people dispatching know our community and our city.”

Another rookie, Coun. Lawrence Lee, said the mandate under the Municipal Government Act is to provide safe and vibrant communities.

“I see this as more of a step back than a move to a more efficient system and model. In fact I would argue it would create a financial burden, which is secondary to service level which is our safety mandate.”

The other new member of council, Coun. Ken Johnston said this comes down to a sovereignty issue and the ability of the city to provide service and safeguard its own citizens.

“If we have learned anything over the years,” said Johnston, “centralization models come and go. They tend to be less efficient. They tend to require more governance. In fact they tend to take more economic resources than the vision that was put in.”

In other council news:

l Council passed first reading of a land-use bylaw amendment that would allow the Safe Harbour Society to add six spaces to its mat program located at 5246 53rd Ave. City planner Tara Lodewyk told council the additional spaces will not require more staffing or expansion of the building. She said the expansion of six spaces or 15 per cent is a relatively small increase and still meets the intent of the district. The approval triggers a public hearing scheduled for Dec. 2 at 6 p.m. in council chambers.