Ambulance response changes unfair: council

New Westminster Coun. Chuck Puchmayr -
New Westminster Coun. Chuck Puchmayr
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An initiative to limit ambulances heading to calls with their lights and sirens blaring has upset New Westminster fire officials and city council.

To make it safer for their employees the B.C. Ambulance Service is proposing to change the response to many patient conditions from Code 3, which involves lights and sirens, to “routine.” The service expects the change will reduce full-out responses by 30 per cent.

However, in Coun. Chuck Puchmayr’s opinion the service doesn’t provide evidence to support the “lights-and-sirens” call-outs as not being safe, and it is a case of the provincial government downloading the costs and work on to municipal fire departments.

“I’m really worried. If they can delay every call they deem to be a fall that could become a heart attack or a stroke,” said Puchmayr in proposing a motion for council to make known its objections. “Letting local governments determine how they’re going to respond is unfair. It really causes a dilemma in our own communities.”

New Westminster fire chief Tim Armstrong told council about an incident he encountered while driving home before Christmas. He saw a car overturned in a ditch just off River Road in Delta with an elderly woman half submerged. While he helped her another commuter called 911. He said the Delta fire department arrived quickly and got the woman out, but she then had to wait lying on the road on a cold night with a broken ankle for an ambulance to arrive from Richmond without sirens in rush hour which he felt put her health in danger.

“The feeling is around the Lower Mainland … if fire didn’t respond it would collapse the system,” said Armstrong. “It is a serious issue and we really want to make a point it’s really up to our local governments what level of care they want to get to our community.”

Coun. Betty McIntosh, a former emergency department nurse, took an opposing view. She said she’s ridden in emergency vehicles when the sirens and lights are used and feels it can be “disturbing.”

She said she was with a 98-year-old woman who needed an ambulance but not urgently but the ambulance service wouldn’t go routine.

“It’s a fine line of making this community scared of the resources out there. They’ve got seniors scared they’re not going to get the service when they need it,” said McIntosh.

But Coun. Bill Harper said all of city staff’s indications are there is going to be a delay in response for about 81 different types of incidences. He said the fire department will have to respond to incidents they’re not necessarily responsible for. “They’re not going to be completely irresponsible.” But, he pointed out, once they’re at the scene someone has to stay until an ambulance arrives even if there’s an emergency they’re being called to elsewhere in the city.

Council has also requested a meeting with provincial emergency officials to discuss the issue.

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