Red Deer Emergency Services ambulances are now handling 90 per cent of local calls and relying on outside help much less often.
It is a sign the addition of a pair of peak ambulances in the spring has been providing the relief intended.
At times, as many as 40 per cent of local calls were handled by ambulances pulled in from elsewhere, said Stephen Belich, Red Deer fire-medic and president of International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) Local 1190.
“The calls are going up but we are doing our own calls in Red Deer,” said Belich on Tuesday.
The additional help has been well received by crews, who now have more chances to take a breather knowing there is another ambulance available to take a call.
“I think it’s positive, but there has been lots of change and lots of growth in the last couple of months and we’re just trying to catch up to it.”
While the additional ambulances are welcomed, to staff them six new planned fire-medic hires approved by Red Deer City Council in its last budget have, for now, been posted as paramedics on the ambulances.
Until paramedics can be hired to relieve them, the fire-medics can not undertake the eight to 12 weeks of firefighter training required to make them full-fledged rookie fire-medics.
It is hoped training can get underway later this summer, but it is a time of year when the 180-strong Red Deer Emergency Services is typically shorter-staffed because of other training and vacations.
Last weekend, the union local tweeted that a fire-medic shortage —two were available instead of four — meant Station 2 was closed from 1 a.m. to 8 a.m. The union warned that response to a 911 call might be delayed.
Belich said there were a number of occasions when operations were affected by staff shortages last summer. That prompted the request for additional staff that council approved before it was known additional ambulances would be arriving.
Not having enough fire-medics on a crew that is first sent to a scene limits what they can do. For safety reasons, they cannot attempt interior rescues until further help arrives.
“That’s one thing that’s concerning about having a decrease in fire staffing at these halls, with less than four per engine, what they can do safely on scene is limited until other crews from other parts of the city show up,” he said.
“That puts our people in a very tough spot.”
It is hoped the summer goes smoothly and more paramedics will soon arrive to relieve the future fire-medics working the peak ambulances now.
However, there is plenty of competition for trained advanced care or primary care paramedics, not least from the seven other integrated fire departments like Red Deer’s that are staffed with firefighter-paramedics.
“We’re not the only ones in the province. There is a little bit of a shortage when it comes to paramedics because the other seven integrated locals around the province are hiring and AHS is hiring. So, there is a little bit of a shortage of trained qualified people right now.”
Meanwhile, the minister behind the additional ambulance help, Health Minister Jason Copping, lost his reelection bid.
Belich said firefighters had a good relationship with Copping.
“From our perspective, and this goes for the firefighters at the IAFF, we’ll work with people who work with us. It doesn’t matter the government, we’ll try to help and navigate and give our input and try to make things better.
“We have had positive change over the last six months and I think the biggest thing now with the new UCP government is just to try to keep trying to go in that direction.”