Viewpoint: Reduced ambulance service unacceptable

In regard to last issue’s article [“Fire chief defends 2017 budget,” February 15], I completely concur with City of Powell River councillor Rob Southcott.

Firefighters are having to backfill the reduced level service being provided by BC Ambulance Service and it is costing local taxpayers money. This seems to be a growing and silent province-wide issue that has changed the way 911 medical calls are handled.

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It used to be that a 911 medical emergency call was handled by BC Ambulance only. Exceptions to this were motor vehicle accidents and other incidents that may require extraction of a patient.

Now firefighters are taking it upon themselves to attend to most (if not all) medical callouts. I’m sure their presence is nice to have, but it is doubtful that it is always needed. It would be good to know how many of the more than 1,000 calls were medical first-responder calls, and how many were actual fire calls.

This change has progressed very slowly over time and has become the new norm. The result is the firefighters are once again busy. I say once again, as the number of structure fires is going down steadily over time and firefighters have less to do.

Their union, being diligent, then found work by inviting themselves to all BC Ambulance calls, regardless as to whether there was an actual request for their presence.

This “make-work” project is now resulting in what we see here, a firefighting force so busy with medical responses that they can no longer fulfill their firefighter duties and, as a result, need to hire more staff.

Might I suggest a return to normal, or at least a partial return. Let’s baseline “need” versus “because we can” on these callouts.

Let’s let the provincial government know that downloading medical first-responder costs in this way is simply not acceptable. Rather than just going with the flow, we need to become realistic on how these services are provided locally.

Powell River fire chief Terry Peters has a tough job and his efforts, and those of his crews, are much appreciated. But when it comes down to it, he is the guy that does fire inspections, he is the fire-prevention officer, and he is who figures out and implements the threshold for his crews’ response to various incidents. That is his job.

It is this last set of decisions that needs to be revisited and revised. Do not accept what other departments elsewhere in the province are doing; their incentives are based internally. Do not accept automatically that it is your job to backfill the reduced staffing at BC Ambulance; it is not.

Instead, push back on Southcott and the rest of council and give them the fortitude to go back to the province and say, “No, status quo for BC Ambulance staffing is not acceptable.”

Collectively, you need to stop the scope creep that is going on within your duties. You must.

Rob Stokes is a Powell River resident concerned about increasing costs and the growing civic trend of making work for the sake of staying busy.

Copyright © Powell River Peak

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