Rural fire departments worried about changes coming for BC Ambulance s

Cumberland Fire Rescue responds to about 60 medical calls a year on top of other emergencies.

However, Chief Mike Williamson says those numbers could increase because of changes at the nearby BC Ambulance station.

“We usually only do emergency medical calls but we’re going to be doing more standard routine calls and that’s really not what we’re here for,” said Williamson.

He and others including the Ambulance Paramedics of BC are worried about changes that are coming to BC Ambulance stations in small communities across BC but will be rolled out on Vancouver Island first this summer.

The changes will see a move to a scheduled on-call system at nearly 30 small stations that BC Emergency Health Servies says will create around 100 new positions on the island and a more stable, reliable workforce.

But the union disagrees and says moving to a $2 per hour on-call system will lead to longer wait times for ambulances.

“So what they’re going to rely on is this $2 an hour call-out model for all other coverage and in some situations like Cumberland that’s a decrease in service for that community,” said Troy Clifford, President of Ambulance Paramedics of BC.

The Deep Bay Fire Department has similar concerns about changes to the BC Ambulance station in Bowser and whether on-call paramedics will be responding from home or from the station which could lead to delays and increased calls for Deep Bay volunteers.

The ambulance stations in Cumberland and Bowser have higher call volumes than other small rural communities which the union says the changes would be better suited for.

Both fire departments are concerned that on-call paramedics might not live in the community which will lead to delays and more routine calls for their volunteer members.

“Our firefighters don’t mind getting up at 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. in the morning to come and do an emergency call but when they have to come and do a routine standby call because the ambulance is delayed 10 minutes or 20 minutes, you know, that’s not what they’re about they all have other jobs,” added Williamson.

BC Emergency Health Services says the changes are based on data and will be better for patient care adding more paramedics will be on-call at BC Ambulance stations ready to respond.

“The end result is going to be a more harmonized and supportive matrix of paramedics in these areas that are going to help patients so it’s a significant improvement to getting good quality patient care to those calling 911,” said Brad Cameron, Acting Director of Patient Care Delivery at BCEHS. “I’m excited about this because in my 30 years this is the first move towards a more regulized workforce and I think it’s going to have a significant and positive impact.”

Although rural fire departments are concerned about the changes, Brad Cameron, Acting Director of Patient Care Delivery at BCEHS, said the end result is going to be a more harmonized and supportive matrix of paramedics in these areas. (Dean Stoltz/CHEK News)