A Port Coquitlam firefighter who lives in Pitt Meadows and almost lost his arm in a saw-blade accident has joined the chorus calling for more full-time firefighters in the city.
“I am very troubled with the direction of our fire department,” Chad Evan said in a letter to council and which shared in social media.
“I am friends with several members and know how hard they train, and how dedicated they are to helping their community,” he wrote. “I know how frustrated they are with not being dispatched to life-threatening medical incidents, like I experienced.”
Six weeks ago, “an accident with a circular saw at home made me the patient,” Evans said. “The blade broke off and deeply cut into my arm above the elbow, hitting an artery. The bleeding was quick and extensive. My wife called 911 and then helped apply pressure to the wound in an attempt to try to slow the bleed – but it wouldn’t stop. I can’t explain the fear and helplessness of myself and my wife contemplating this possible fatal injury in front of my children.”
He described how paramedics arrived and were not able to control the bleeding. They waited for firefighters to arrive and help move him. When Pitt Meadows firefighters did not respond in time, paramedics loaded Evans themselves, and the fire department appeared only after he was in the ambulance.
Evans had surgery to repair the extensive damage to his arm, and is now faced with a recovery that will take up to two years.
“I was fortunate that ambulance crews were in the area that night – but am grossly aware that this is not necessarily typical of the response time from B.C. Ambulance,” he said. “There is no doubt that lives are being impacted and lives are possibly being lost due to the limited response from our fire department.”
He said Pitt Meadows is a dynamic and growing municipality, and that “it is unbelievable that we do not have a guaranteed response level from the fire department. Every single neighboring municipality in the Lower Mainland out to and including Chilliwack provides their residents and businesses a safer and more reliable level of service. This must change and I intend to be a voice for moving in the right direction.”
The city currently has five full-time fire personnel: a chief, two assistant chiefs and two safety technicians. There are also approximately 25 paid on-call firefighters.
Adding two full-time firefighters would cost the city close to $200,000 a year.
Dingwall, a former RCMP officer, has also said adding two full-time firefighters would increase response times.
Pitt Meadows Fire Chief Don Jolley said Evans’ letter wrongly assumes that the local firefighters were immediately dispatched to the incident.
They were not, said Jolley, but when they got a request for assistance from paramedics on scene, they attended.
The original 911 call was never given to the Surrey dispatch centre that serves Pitt Meadows, said Jolley.
He also said that Pitt Meadows firefighters do respond to serious medical emergencies, such as cardiac arrest, severe allergic reactions and electrocutions. The near amputation of an arm would normally qualify, and the reasons his department were not dispatched are not yet clear.
“The bottom line is, we never heard about the call,” said Jolley.
He defended his department’s record, saying it responded to 132 medical emergencies last year, and that is a larger number than some Fraser Valley departments serving larger cities, with more full-time members.
For example, Chilliwack has 31 full-time firefighters, and in 2013 responded to 124 medical emergencies. Pitt Meadows has a population of 18,000 and Chilliwack, 78,000.
He said Evans’ letter is “demeaning a very good public service, by making it look like it’s not.”
Pitt Meadows recently hired a consultant to conduct a fire services review, which concluded the city gets good service at a lower cost compared with other jurisdictions.
Council concluded that it should continue with its paid on-call system.
“This particular incident is not indicative of our service levels,” said Mayor John Becker, who plans to respond to Evans in writing.
Becker’s position is that Evans is inappropriately playing politics with a personal medical emergency to advocate for more professional firefighters.
Becker views any problems arising from the incident involving Evans as coming from a breakdown in the call and dispatch.
He said the Pitt Meadows fire department provides a service that exceeds requirements and expectations.
“From all accounts, we are at or above average on all the important markers,” said Becker.
“To suggest we are somehow an unsafe community or cutting back is fear mongering to serve an agenda.”