October 30th, 2020

Integrated fire and EMS essential


By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on August 21, 2020.

Have you or someone you love received life-saving service from Lethbridge Fire and EMS?

If so, you already know the value that our integrated service and local dispatch provides. If not, let’s hope you never have to find out.

The City of Lethbridge operates a fully integrated Fire and EMS Service. This means firefighters and paramedics are dually trained to do both jobs. We can locally dispatch fire, EMS and police resources as needed. All of the different pieces of this system work together to provide the most efficient and effective service to our community. The City of Lethbridge is focused on all areas of emergency services with a local lens.

On Aug. 4, Alberta Health Services announced that it will discontinue its contract with the City of Lethbridge to provide EMS dispatch, essentially taking a cog out of the wheel of the local integrated service model. We believe this will create significant hurdles, inefficiencies and potential negative outcomes for our community.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer, and Don Scott, Mayor for the Municipality of Wood Buffalo, and I recently held a joint news conference voicing opposition to the AHS plan of centralizing ambulance dispatch services. We are collectively calling on Premier Jason Kenney and Health Minister Tyler Shandro to intervene because our municipalities and Albertans value an EMS system that is collaborative and accountable.

This is an important issue. It is about patient outcomes and patient care in our community. We have a fully integrated system with all levels of our emergency services. It saves lives. We want to keep it.

At its Aug. 10 meeting, Lethbridge City Council voted unanimously in favour of an Official Business Resolution which included that council re-affirm its commitment to preserving EMS response operated by the City of Lethbridge and invite support from citizens and other communities. Council also voted in favour of an amendment to instruct the city manager to investigate the legal, financial and operational viability of the City of Lethbridge continuing to provide integrated EMS service.

To re-affirm – we are strongly opposed to this planned change to EMS dispatch. In 2019, a fire crew was the first on scene to a medical or motor vehicle incident 881 times, which equates to 19 per cent. When seconds can be the difference between life and death, this response is critical. With the loss of EMS dispatch, we will no longer be able to co-ordinate the medical first response because all EMS calls will automatically go to AHS.

There are times in Lethbridge where EMS is dispatched but encounters an unexpected dangerous situation that require police or fire on scene before they are able to reach a patient. Co-ordination between police and fire first responders with EMS leads to better patient outcomes and a safer response to life-and-death situations.

Health Minister Tyler Shandro has agreed to meet with the mayors in the next two weeks to discuss our concerns. We wish to work with the Government of Alberta to provide the most efficient and effective system of EMS response that best serves those in need because this is about saving lives.

Think about the case from late last year of well-known Lethbridge personality Tony Deys. Mr. Deys credits the City of Lethbridge’s integrated response model of paramedics and firefighters as one of the main reasons that he’s still alive today.

We invite the community to tell your stories, write to our local MLAs and to the health minister – and copy city council on them. Now is the time to express your views. For more information, please visit: http://www.lethbridge.ca/EMSdispatch.

At city council’s next meeting, this coming Monday, we will be debating and voting on third reading of Bylaw 6239 – Temporary Mandatory Face Coverings.

Many communities are dealing with the same issues as COVID-19 cases are still happening and will continue to happen. We all must do what we can to maintain low case numbers in our community. With school resuming, as well as fall and winter weather and, yes, even the Christmas shopping season looming, we need people to stay safe so we can keep our economy on track.

Regardless of what council decides on Monday, we strongly encourage everyone to wear a mask when in public when physical distancing can’t be maintained. It protects you and it protects others.

Also coming back to council on Monday, after being postponed two weeks ago, will be representatives from the Lethbridge and District Exhibition. They have a series of requests to council for a proposed agri-food hub. The provincial government recently invested $27.8 million into this project. Part of the Ex Park requests to council include a 30-year loan from the City of Lethbridge for $17,824,000 and a grant site lease for a 50-year term, with an option for an additional 50-year term. If this passes on Monday, it could be a big piece of economic recovery and forward thinking for our city and our region.

On the topic of Exhibition Park, this week has been a modified version of Whoop-Up Days. While there was not a parade, midway, rodeo or concerts to enjoy, kudos to their staff and collaborators for offering some creative programming. We hope to see everyone back to a traditional Whoop-Up Days gathering in 2021.

I will end this month by wishing everyone a safe back-to-school season. For those new to our city: welcome and OKI! I also encourage everyone to stay safe and look out for each other during our current heat wave.

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