COQUITLAM (NEWS 1130) – If firefighters can get to a medical emergency faster, they should be notified when a 9-1-1 call comes in. That’s the view of Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart, who took to social media share his thoughts.
In his Facebook post, Stewart used an example from July, when an 80-year-old woman collapsed in the sun.
“On one of the hottest days of the year, the woman had fallen onto a hot concrete walkway, in the sun, so volunteers with umbrellas tried to keep the sun off her while they waited for BC Ambulance. But the first ambulance was apparently reassigned enroute, diverted to a higher-acuity call. So the wait for an ambulance continued under the hot July sun.”
Stewart, who has not yet announced whether he will seek re-election, said it took an hour for an ambulance to respond, but in the interim, he called the fire department across the street.
“Coquitlam Fire said they’d respond immediately, and I heard the siren less than a minute later. Within a couple more minutes, Engine 1 arrived and firefighters had opened up medical equipment and monitors to assess the patient.
“A few minutes later, having ruled out more serious injuries or broken bones, they were able to move the 80-year-old off the hot pavement and into the shade to keep her cooler, while waiting another half-hour or so for an ambulance.”
He said when paramedics arrived, they took over and treated the patient before taking her to the hospital.
“At least for the first half an hour this was a very, very stressful situation for the volunteer first aid attendants that had no idea when an ambulance was going to be there,” Steward says in a conversation with NEWS 1130.
He claims the BCEHS made changes to protocols ‘unilaterally,’ without discussing it with local governments, fire departments, or communities.
“They simply made the decision on their own, and implemented it… When I heard from our fire chief that this decision had been made unilaterally, that they weren’t particularly comfortable with it, they really didn’t know the details of the rationale. I believe that we are one of the first responder partners in medical instances, and our fire crews are well-trained and do provide an important service. I used to be a first aid attendant and a life guard and I’ll tell you the fire crews always arrived first and were always helpful.”
Stewart’s preference is to let communities decide what level of service they’re willing to spend on when it comes to medical emergencies.
The Ambulance Paramedics of BC recently responded to a similar concern from the mayor of Delta by saying the changes with the Clinical Response Model have been done in an evidence-based fashion.
Those changes took effect at the beginning of June.
“The intent of this change, according to BCEHS, is to improve response times to higher acuity events and reduce call volumes for lower acuity events. But there was very little discussion with First Responder partners, also involved in the delivery of pre-hospital care in their communities,” argued Stewart in his post.
He said fire crews “can usually be at a call in one-third the time, can assess and stabilize the situation, can apply such life-saving interventions as naloxone for overdose, or an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) for cardiac arrest, or something as simple as oxygen, etc. They can update enroute BCEHS personnel on the condition of the patient, often downgrading or upgrading the level of urgency. And they can calm the patient’s loved ones.”
Stewart added the value of the latter is often “underestimated.”
He said the best-case scenario would be that ambulance service is improved so another person who finds themselves in a similar scenario as the senior is checked out by medical professionals sooner. He noted paramedics are better trained and better equipped for the work than fire crews.
But he argued “until the ambulance can arrive within minutes of a call, communities should be allowed to choose the level of service we provide to supplement BCEHS.”
“The 9-1-1 call for a medical emergency doesn’t have to be treated like a BC Ambulance monopoly.”
Cameron Eby, president of the Ambulance Paramedic’s of B.C. union, says Stewart raises some valid concerns.
“It’s not ok for anybody in British Columbia to wait an hour for an ambulance, we’ve been saying that for some time,” he says. “In situations like this I think it’s important that it get submitted to the ambulance service’s independent investigation process and quality process so it can be reviewed and determine exactly what happened and make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
He says it’s not realistic that the fire department respond to every 9-1-1 call, adding not every call is life threatening or even urgent.
“The dispatching process uses an internationally recognized and peer-reviewed process to triage those calls and assign a level of priority,” Eby explains. By sending fire crews to a non-critical call, he adds a resource is being tied up and kept from a possible higher-priority call.
On Stewart’s claim that there wasn’t enough consultation with municipalities before changes were implemented, Eby says BCEHS did advise the union of a number of meetings that occurred through the Regional Administrative Advisory Committee.
“That is a group of city administrators from the Lower Mainland district that meet on a regular basis to discuss things,” he says.
He adds he was told of five different occasions where BCEHS brought the issue to the committee between September 2017 and May of 2018.
Mixed response to Stewart’s opinion
Stewart post has garnered several comments, including some who are pleased the mayor is shining a spotlight on a problem in the community.
Others, who say they are paramedics themselves, call Stewart’s post “ridiculous” and accuse Stewart of trying to “score political points”