Gaps in service a concern

Are Fire Department First Responders a solution to gaps in ambulance coverage

How many times have you driven to Cranbrook and seen an ambulance sitting just off the road near the airport turn-off on Highway 95A? Anyone who makes the drive frequently will recall seeing an ambulance there. The unit waits at that location in order to provide quick coverage to Kimberley when ambulances here are busy. It’s an attempt to make sure there are no gaps in ambulance service.

However, gaps do exist and are a concern to Mayor Ron McRae, who attempted to get some answers at the Union of B.C. Municipalities last month.

“If both of Kimberley’s ambulances are out you will see one sitting at the airport,” McRae said. “At odd times, we’ve even had an ambulance come down from Invermere to cover. But typically, it’s a Cranbrook ambulance sitting there.”

McRae says the fact that an ambulance has to sit on standby between Kimberley and Cranbrook makes a statement on the ongoing inadequacies of ambulance services in Kimberley.

He says there have been a couple of recent incidents in which ambulance service was not available in a timely fashion. While declining to go into detail on these incidents, McRae says they were “pretty significant”.

“We are looking for the Ambulance Service to do something about the gap,” McRae said.

Discussions at the UBCM didn’t provide any answers.

“I wouldn’t say they are resistant, but it does come down to costs,” McRae said.

However, these gaps in service are especially important in Kimberley because the closest emergency room is at East Kootenay Regional in Cranbrook, which means you are some 22 minutes away from a doctor’s care.

“We are even more dependent on the ambulance than other communities,” McRae said.

So what’s the solution? Many communities, including Cranbrook, offer First Responder services through the Fire Department.

A statement from BC Ambulance says, “BC Ambulance Service (BCAS) recognizes that pre-hospital emergency care often requires a professional team approach and appreciates the critical role first responding organizations, such as fire departments, play in ensuring that our patients have access to timely and high quality care during medical emergencies.

“An important component of the chain of survival, our partners in public safety can help us save lives by providing basic first aid, such as CPR and defibrillation, while paramedics are en-route to the scene. Well coordinated with the BCAS, the support provided by first responders during medical emergencies is integral in the delivery of our service to the people of B.C. Participation in the first responder program is voluntary, with the municipality covering the costs of sending municipal resources such as fire crews to emergency calls.”

Kimberley’s Fire Department does provide an emergency services response to provide services such as vehicle extrication in a motor vehicle accident. They do not provide First Responder medical services.

And there is resistance to having Kimberley’s Fire Department provide First Responder services because of the cost.

“There is resistance on our part because it is yet another download,” McRae said. “Yes, many of our Fire Department members are trained as first responders and our Fire Training students do that training because other municipalities do offer the service. There is some pressure from the Ambulance Service to train our Fire Department as first responders. But there is significant reluctance because of worries about the ability of the Fire Department to respond in a timely manner, and of course costs, which could be over $100,000 per year.”