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Department changes not straightforward

So, there is now much hubbub over changes about to take place for Canmore’s fire department.
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So, there is now much hubbub over changes about to take place for Canmore’s fire department.

If you haven’t heard, right now the Town offers an integrated service model which provides both ambulances and fire/rescue at the same time with the same staff, while operating out of the same facility.

But the province, AKA Alberta Health Services (AHS), has taken over the ambulances and the present model, with all its efficiencies, will no longer work within the system.

So, in splitting the department, the local firefighter union has been engaging the community in a debate over what are appropriate staffing levels. There’s no easy answer, as in truth the past and future operations can be seen as apples and oranges.

Now the issue is how the department should respond to medical emergencies when no ambulance is immediately available.

With AHS in charge, the ambulance system is borderless, meaning both Canmore units can be elsewhere at any given time – it has happened with some regularity and it will continue to happen.

Case in point is a woman who took a fall on Canmore’s 10th Street pond last week and waited for a Banff ambulance to arrive as firefighters attended to her – two blocks from the EMS station.

In this case the woman’s injuries were not life-threatening, but in future what is to happen while someone waits for an ambulance to arrive?

Today, the fire department responds and, while right now you are guaranteed a paramedic who can administer drugs, intervene in a cardiac arrest or treat anaphylactic shock, that will no longer be the case as of April 1.

The Town says the municipality should not duplicate the ambulance service or be in the medical business – that’s AHS’s job.

This, we respectfully feel, is one of those things that in a perfect world is true. But if you’re injured, waiting for an ambulance to arrive can make for a loooong wait, where minutes seem like hours.

Some point out many rural residents of this province are in the same boat; if they need an ambulance, units may be far away and wait times may be long.

Not all, however, have a fully trained and equipped fire department of paramedics that can and want to fill that gap. Many towns are also not positioned on the high-volume Trans-Canada Highway, where motor vehicle collisions are commonplace.

This situation is one where jurisdiction and politics, including the fact the municipality is in a bargaining position with the union, have come up against public safety.

What we have now is a situation where the province has not recognized and is not willing to compensate fire departments as a necessary extension of the emergency medical system, while municipalities like Canmore could, but aren’t, stepping up for something that is not technically their responsibility in the first place.

Firefighters are lobbying the local level of government and we question whether it will make a difference at this point, with changes to the system having been decided for over a year. We hope efforts are also directed to the provincial government.

Trouble is, we can’t help but be concerned that in all this chaos there is a worst case scenario lurking where the most important thing of all is lost – a human life. Should a worst case happen, who is right won’t mean anything.




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