The City of Red Deer is looking into following Wood Buffalo’s example and taking back control of its integrated fire-ambulance dispatching system.
“We will be looking at our options … anything that benefits the health and safety of our residents, we have the responsibility to pursue it,” said Mayor Tara Veer.
But she admitted there are already some differences between Red Deer and Wood Buffalo — including the fact that Alberta Health Services already removed dispatching equipment, including computers, monitors and radios from the Red Deer centre.
‘These are questions (about feasibility) we will be exploring over the next few days… whether we legally and technically have the capacity to do it,” said Veer.
In mid-January, Red Deer, the Municipal District of Wood Buffalo, Lethbridge and Calgary were forced by Alberta Health Services give up their local ambulance dispatching systems. Even though the four mayors had fought for months to retain local ambulance dispatch service, which had been integrated with local fire dispatch in their communities, all 911-ambulance calls started to be transferred to consolidated central dispatching centres in Calgary or Edmonton.
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.
Scott described how centralized ambulance dispatchers did not know how to give proper directions to emergency workers to remote communities within his region.
“There are circumstances when acts of defiance and resistance, I believe are absolutely necessary,” Scott told local media. “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.”
Veer said she completely understand’s Scott’s frustration with the province and AHS, which have not been listening to municipal concerns about the public health risk of having ambulances potentially arrive much later to emergencies than is optimal.
Veer said she already wrote to the provincial government about problems when some sick or injured central Albertans waited too long for emergency assistance.
In one case, she said an ambulance was mistakenly sent to downtown Red Deer instead of Sundre before the error was discovered.
In another case, AHS dispatch routed the nearest ambulance to a call in Red Deer but it took this ambulance 25 minutes to reach the scene because it had previously been tied up in Lacombe.
If local fire-medics had been alerted to this call — as they would have been under the old integrated system — it would have taken just four to six minutes for them to arrive, said Veer.
The province had many chances to listen to municipal concerns, said Veer. The City of Red Deer offered to pay extra to keep the old system — but received no response from the province. Suggestions were also made by municipalities about ways to mitigate problems with the new system — but again there was no response from government.
Veer said the city will now review the possibility of following Wood Buffalo’s lead and defying provincial authority to preserve public safety.
She anticipates this matter could come before council for discussion in a few weeks.