When Fort St. John City Councillors
head to the Union of British Columbia Municipalities conference later
this month, they’ve pledged to raise the issue of BC Ambulance staffing
City Staff are concerned that
insufficient ambulance staffing in the region is costing local taxpayers
money and compromising the core service of the Fort St. John fire
department, which has been picking up the slack for the provincial
The City never signed a formal
agreement or adopted a policy to assume first responder
responsibilities, but rather a procedure that developed over time
starting in 1997 when B.C. Ambulance took over the service from the
city’s fire protection service.
In the first seven months of 2011, 48
per cent of all fire department responses were medical aid. The current
practice is for the fire department to respond to medical calls whenever
there is a significant delay response by the Ambulance Service.
The trouble is, the service is delayed
more and more, forcing the locally funded fire department to devote more
resources to a service that residents already pay for through
provincial income taxes.
In 2009, the fire department responded
to 25 medical aid request and by 2010 that number had shot up to 99,
with the majority stemming from motor vehicle
“It’s ridiculous that this service was
originally provided locally by our fire department, then the province
took it away and now when B.C. Ambulance can’t provide the service who
do they call?” said Mayor Bruce Lantz.
The service faces several challenges
including responsibility for a vast geographical area with only three
vehicles and chronic staffing issues caused by low-pay difficulty in
Often times, according to Fire Chief
Fred Burrows, the only ambulance serving the region from Hudson’s Hope
to the Sikanni Bridge will be stationed in Dawson Creek.
“We’re supposed to be the last resort,
but when you only have one ambulance on the road what does that make
us?” he said. “The number of calls has escalated far beyond what we
thought we were getting into.”
Former Fire Chief, Councillor Larry
Evans said the City is between a rock and a hard place because it’s
difficult to make a financial stand when there are lives on the line.
But, City Manager Dianne Hunter said the present situation is unsustainable.
“This is not where council intended the
fire department to go. You have not resourced your fire department to
provide this service and the equipment we purchase is for fighting
fires, they’re not ambulances. The fact we’re providing this service
takes away from the gains we’ve made on the fire service and the fact
remains – this is not our responsibility,” she said.
“When we have fires in the community,
we don’t expect B.C. Ambulance to come out with a hose and assist us.
This is where cities get caught in trying to do the right thing – but
what happens is, we often go down that road and find out it’s a slippery
slope,” she continued.
She recognizes resources at B.C. Ambulance are lean, but questioned whether or not that should be the City’s issue.
“It’s become our issue and it’s become our issue at a considerable cost,” said Hunter.