Pitt Meadows mayor Bill Dingwall said over the course of the last few of years he has noticed the resourcing level for B.C. paramedics is not where it needs to be in order to meet the needs of the citizens in Metro Vancouver.
Earlier this month he joined nine other Lower Mainland mayors in signing a letter to Health Minister Adrian Dix expressing concern at the staffing shortages.
“I know they don’t have enough resources, and I know the paramedics are not paid adequately,” Dingwall said.
“They’re paid the least out of the first responders, so in my view, they need a higher level of wage, to represent and reflect what they do as a service to the communities.”
In the meantime, the mayor suggests, local firefighters should be better integrated into calls usually only reserved for ambulances.
“I know personally, having been a first responder, citizens, when they’re in turmoil and in crisis, are looking for a uniform,” he said. “And they don’t care who it is.”
“It reduces their anxiety when a firefighter is on scene.
“These firefighters can assess the situation, get personal details, forward those to B.C. Ambulance to either upgrade or downgrade the call, and also provide that first medical response, whether it’s bandaging a cut or making them comfortable.
“There’s a lot of value in that.”
President of Ambulance Paramedics and Emergency Dispatchers of BC Troy Clifford said the letter has shed some light on an important conversation.
“It’s definitely a serious issue in a lot of communities,” he said.
Clifford asserts the mayors are missing a key point.
“The issue isn’t duplication of services, the issue is we need more paramedics to treat and transport, not more first responders.
“Firefighters are already going to all the calls that fall under critical intervention skills that they are capable of providing, so sending them to more calls doesn’t make sense.”
In an ideal situation, Clifford said, municipalities should not be offering to take on more responsibilities.
“They should be holding the B.C. Emergency Health Services and the Provincial Health Services Authority responsible for better ambulance service within their communities.”
BCEHS spokesperson Shannon Miller noted the organization has added close to 150 permanent paramedic positions throughout the province during the pandemic.
“And we are adding more positions in the weeks and months ahead that will increase stability in our staffing,” she added.
Provincial Health Office directions have resulted in BCEHS reducing the number of lower sensitivity calls that fire first responders attend for medical response.
“It is to reduce the risk of infection, and that direction remains in place,” she said.
“BCEHS is collaborating with provincial fire responder leadership to monitor this response, which has been in place throughout the COVID pandemic.”
She added fire departments continue to be notified of all vehicle crashes, hazardous materials sites, fire related calls, drowning/near drowning incidents and other calls where their expertise and assistance is needed.
During the pandemic fire first responders are notified of all life-threatening, time-critical calls.
Before COVID-19, they were also notified of all moderately-urgent calls unless an ambulance was nearby, which would arrive at roughly the same time – approximately 10 minutes, including call-processing time.
Legislation determining who attends medical emergency calls is set by the provincial government under the Emergency Health Services Act.
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